Senior Hamas member Ismail Haniyeh, who is designated to become the Palestinian prime minister, told Newsweek Magazine and the Washington Post that "We do not wish to throw them into the sea." At the same time, Haniyeh did not show any real flexibility over Hamas' stance, and refused to delete Hamas' call for Israel's destruction. He repeatedly said that any diplomatic developments could only be possible after Israel recognized Palestinian rights.
Haniyeh, who is looking to win points in the American court of public opinion in order to prevent a cut off of U.S. aid to the Palestinians, promised during the interview: "We are not war seekers nor are we war initiators. We are not lovers of blood. We are not interested in a vicious cycle of violence. We are oppressed people with rights. If peace brings us our rights, then this is good."
Haniyeh added that he and other Hamas members were surprised by the international demand that Hamas recognizes Israel and agreements signed with Israel, and give up terrorism. "Why don't they direct such conditions and questions to Israel? Has Israel respected agreements? Israel has bypassed practically all agreements. We say: Let Israel recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinians first and then we will have a position regarding this. Which Israel should we recognize? The Israel of 1917; the Israel of 1936; the Israel of 1948; the Israel of 1956; or the Israel of 1967? Which borders and which Israel? Israel has to recognize first the Palestinian state and its borders and then we will know what we are talking about."
The Hamas member evaded a question on a two-state solution, the signing of agreements, and the withdrawal from Gaza.
When asked whether he accepted Oslo, Heniyeh said that "Israel has stopped completely committing itself to Oslo."
He added: "Oslo stated that a Palestinian state would be established by 1999. Where is this Palestinian state? Has Oslo given the right to Israel to reoccupy the West Bank, to build the wall and expand the settlements, and to Judaize Jerusalem and make it totally Jewish? Has Israel been given the right to disrupt the work on the port and airport in Gaza? Has Oslo given them the right to besiege Gaza and to stop all tax refunds from the Palestinian Authority?"
Haniyeh was careful not to say during the interview that he was not obligated by agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians. When asked: " So you will not abide by past agreements made by the Palestinians and Israel?" Haniyeh replied: I have not said that… We will review all agreements and abide by those that are in the interest of the Palestinian people."
What agreements will you honor?
The ones that will guarantee the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital with 1967 borders -- as well as agreements that would release prisoners.
Would Hamas recognize Israel?
If Israel withdraws to the '67 borders, then we will establish a peace in stages… We will establish a situation of stability and calm which will bring safety for our people -- what Sheikh (Ahmed) Yassin called a long-term hudna.
Does a peace in stages means the ultimate obliteration of the Jewish people?
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.
Do you recognize Israel's right to exist?
The answer is to 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.
Speaking of extending the ceasefire, Haniyeh said that Hamas did not intend to say whether it would be prolonged at this stage: "The problem is with Israel. If Israel gives us a quiet period and stops its incursions and the assassinations, then we will be able to convince our people to continue with a state of quiet."
Speaking about the end of U.S. financial aid and the cutting off of tax money from Israel, Haniyeh said: "We have an economic plan for self-sufficiency based on rationing and protection of public money. Number two: Our relationship with the Islamic and Arab world has shown indications that these people will support us. Number three: The liberals and free people of the world will not like to see the Palestinian people living under siege. We have received indications from the international community that they will not stop their aid. I ask the American administration not to participate in any resolution that will double the suffering of the Palestinian people. I am convinced that the American people would not want to see the Palestinians suffer the way they do… All the Palestinian people would like to stop the bloodshed and take the civilians away from this vicious cycle of violence. The problem is not with us but with the Israelis."
Will you recognize Israel?
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.
Israel does not have a charter calling for the destruction of the Palestinian state.
Our only position will be declared once Israel recognizes our right to exist.
Meanwhile, Hamas has denied reports that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that Hamas may recognize Israel. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zahari said that Hams would "never recognize the Israeli occupation."
He added: "The calm between us and the enemy ended last December and experience has shown that there's no place for such a calm in the shadow of continued Israeli escalation."
Ali Waked contributed to this report