Sat Feb 25, 2006 6:41 PM ET
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Palestinian Prime Minister designate said Hamas is "ready to recognize" Israel if it gives the Palestinian people their full rights and a state in lands occupied since 1967, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Hamas chose Ismail Haniyeh, a 43-year-old Gazan viewed by many Palestinians as a pragmatist, as the new prime minister after sweeping elections on January 25. The group hopes to complete forming a Palestinian government within two weeks.
"If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them," Haniyeh told the Washington Post in an interview posted on its Web site on Saturday.
Haniyeh did not say what form the recognition would take.
Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, has rejected talks with the Jewish state as a waste of time but it has said lately it could respect some aspects of interim peace deals from the 1990s that it had rejected outright in the past.
Haniyeh also said Hamas was ready to consider talks with Israel if the Jewish state withdrew from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and recognized the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees who fled in the 1948 war and their descendants.
"Let Israel say it will recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, release the prisoners and recognize the rights of the refugees to return to Israel. Hamas will have a position if this occurs," Haniyeh said.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in September after a 38-year occupation but has vowed to hold onto East Jerusalem and major West Bank settlements and never allow millions of Palestinians abroad to flood into Israel.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War.
PEACE IN STAGES
A Palestinian uprising began in 2000 after talks between Palestinians and Israelis collapsed. Among the issues on which the talks floundered was Palestinian refugees.
"If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, then we will establish a peace in stages," Haniyeh said. "We will establish a situation of stability and calm, which will bring safety for our people."
Hamas’s election win over President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction paved the way for the group to form a new cabinet and knocked down hopes Middle East peacemaking might be revived.
Asked whether Hamas would abide by interim agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians, Haniyeh said: "We will review all agreements and abide by those that are in the interest of the Palestinian people."
"The ones that will guarantee the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital with 1967 borders."
"We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody," he added.
Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since the uprising began, but has largely abided by a ceasefire forged a year ago.
Abbas said in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday with Britain’s ITV1 he will resign if he is no longer in a position to pursue his peacemaking agenda when the new Hamas government takes over.
But he held back from saying directly he would quit if Hamas continued to refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence.