Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hamas touts 10-year ceasefire to break deadlock over Israel

Ewen MacAskill and Harriet Sherwood

Hamas is urging Britain to back its proposal for a ceasefire of up to 10 years as a way of breaking the impasse over its refusal to recognise the state of Israel.
The most senior delegation from the Hamas government to visit Britain is in London this week to promote its offer to allow a period of "co-existence" with Israel as a way to move to an eventual settlement of the Middle East conflict.

The two-man delegation, representing the Palestinian government, is also urging the British government to lift its ban on contact with Hamas.

"We would welcome talks with Tony Blair," said Ahmad Yousef, senior adviser to the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, in an interview with the Guardian. "We would like to work with him and work with his government to help end the Israeli occupation. We're sending a message to the British government - we're offering a hudna [ceasefire] for 10 years in return for the end of occupation." Hamas wants European governments to accept its ceasefire plan in lieu of the Islamist group formally recognising Israel.

"We hope the Europeans will become aware of the concept of hudna, and that it can become a substitute for recognition of Israel," said Mr Yousef.

"Debate about a political nation's right to exist seems infantile. Israel is a state now, it is part of the UN, it is de facto there, and we deal with it every day."

The Quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - have demanded that Hamas formally recognise Israel, renounce violence, and accept previous agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, before the Quartet lifts the economic embargo on the West Bank and Gaza imposed after Hamas won elections in January.

Mr Yousef said that there was no support in Gaza and the West Bank for recognition of Israel, and he could not propose such a change at present.

"If I did, I would end up like Michael Collins," he said, referring to the Irish republican leader assassinated in 1922 for accepting an Irish two-state solution.

"We need to change people's minds on how they look at the conflict, and it will take time. The climate will change if we have a period of peace."
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