“No one wants to throw anyone into the sea” – Hamas leader
Aziz Dwaik, Hamas's most senior representative in the West Bank, issued the statement in a meeting with British millionaire David Martin Abrahams, who maintains close ties with senior Israeli and British government officials, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Dwaik, who is the elected speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the man who many consider to be the acting president of the Palestinian Authority since Mahmoud Abbas's term officially expired on January 9, also said Hamas would be prepared to nullify its charter in order to pave the way for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
“The [Hamas] charter was drafted more than 20 years ago,” Dwaik reminded, adding that his movement would even be prepared to “nullify” the document.
“No one wants to throw anyone into the sea,” he said, alluding to some of the more radical statements made regarding Israel’s “right to exist”.
The comments surfaced as US President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, arrived in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, and on Friday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The former US Senator has already met leaders in Lebanon and Syria this week.
The Palestinians have said they will not return to talks unless Jewish settlement building is halted, and Mitchell has threatened to cut US financial support to Israel unless settlement construction is terminated.
The Israelis have offered a ten month pause in building in the West Bank, not including East Jerusalem.
Abrahams is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband this weekend on the outcome of his meeting with Dwaik and other top Hamas officials in the West Bank.
Abrahams, a major donor to Britain's Labour Party, told The Jerusalem Post he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas's positive overtures.”
During the meeting in Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank and home to some 165,000 Palestinians, Dwaik said that other Hamas leaders, including Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, have expressed their support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the pre-1967 boundaries.
Dwaik, who was released a few months ago after spending almost three years in an Israeli prison, stressed that Hamas wants to engage in constructive dialogue with the international community, primarily the European Union. In a more candid announcement, he confirmed that Hamas was receiving financial aid from Iran, but that this was the result of the boycott and sanctions against the movement.
Abrahams told The Jerusalem Post that he was “very excited” to hear from the most prominent leader of Hamas in the West Bank that the movement would be prepared to nullify its charter and acknowledge Israel’s statehood.
“The fact that there is a possibility for recognition of Israel is a symbolic gesture,” Abrahams added. “We can all look for good in people and we can all look for bad in people. I always look for the good.”
When asked whether he might be condemned as naïve for taking Hamas on its word, Abrahams responded that he had faith in Dwaik and Haniyeh.
“People might say that I'm naïve, so let them,” he said in the interview. “But I'm prepared to give [Hamas] a chance, because I've got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh. We can't allow 1.5 million people to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”
Abrahams said that his decision to sit down and talk with Hamas was aimed at “preventing bloodshed on both sides,” adding that he was encouraged by the high level of support he found among the Jewish community in Britain.
“I recently published an article in the Jewish Chronicle to test the temperature of the water within the Jewish community about Hamas,” he said, as quoted by The Post. “I found a lot of support among Jews for dealing with Hamas and I was pleasantly surprised.”
However, the success of the talks were thrown into doubt on Wednesday, when Netanyahu forwarded the new demand that Israel must have a presence in the West Bank after a peace agreement is achieved.
“In the case of a future settlement with the Palestinians, this will require an Israeli presence on the eastern side of a prospective Palestinian state,” he told foreign reporters at a news conference in Jerusalem, saying they were necessary to thwart missiles being sent into the region.
A spokesperson for the office of the Palestinian president called the demands “regrettable”.