Saturday, May 27, 2006

Hamas discuss plan implying recognition of Israel

Hamas discuss plan implying recognition of Israel
By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas and other Palestinian factions on Saturday will discuss a plan indirectly calling for recognition of Israel, which President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed to put to a referendum if it is not adopted by early June.

Abbas on Thursday issued his biggest challenge to the Islamist militant Hamas since it won January elections when he threatened to call a referendum on the proposal within 40 days if it is not accepted in 10 days.

The plan, drafted by Palestinian leaders jailed in Israel, includes a clause calling for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Hamas seeks to destroy the Jewish state and has rejected calls by Abbas and Western powers to soften its stance.

As a result, the United States and other countries have frozen aid to the Palestinian government, a move that has brought it to the brink of financial collapse and could lead to a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and impoverished Gaza.

After two days of talks with several factions, Parliament Speaker and Hamas official Aziz Dweik said the groups would form a committee, chaired by Abbas, which would use the plan as "a suitable ground for national dialogue".

Azzam al-Ahmad, an official from Abbas's Fatah group, said the factions would discuss the proposal on Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to unilaterally set Israel's borders in the absence of peace talks, and says Abbas has to "change" Hamas for talks to take place.

The power struggle between Hamas and Fatah has intensified in recent weeks, raising fears of a civil war. The government ordered a new Hamas-led force off Gaza's streets on Friday after several clashes between its members and Abbas loyalists.

A referendum on the proposal Abbas has endorsed could stoke further tensions. But it also might offer Hamas an opportunity to moderate its opposition to Israel and any peace negotiations without having to formally change its stance.

The plan also calls for a peace deal if Israel withdraws from all of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians want as a capital of a state.

Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh said his group, which is also sworn to destroying Israel, disagreed with parts of the plan. It was unclear whether Abbas would call for a referendum if groups other than Hamas ultimately rejected the proposal.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, had said earlier the government would make no political concessions, while Hamas official Ziad Dia said the group would reject any document that signaled recognizing "the Zionist entity."

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah)