Hamas will accept outcome of a referendum on a peace deal


The leader of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said Wednesday for the first time that any resolution of the Palestinian dispute with Israel should be put to a referendum of all Palestinians around the world, and that if one were held, Hamas would accept the results no matter what they were.

In the past, when President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority discussed holding such a referendum, Hamas had been critical, saying that principles like the return of refugees and the borders of the state could not be subject to a vote.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Haniya, speaking in a relatively rare meeting with reporters from foreign news organizations at his office in Gaza City, said, “We will accept the outcome of any referendum even if it contradicts our policies and convictions.”

The Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel and says that all Palestinian land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River is a sacred Islamic endowment that nobody has the right to give up.

The Palestinian Authority retains control in the West Bank, but it was ousted from Gaza by Hamas in a brief civil war in 2007, after Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006. The Hamas leadership is divided between Gaza and those in the Syrian capital, Damascus, with those here generally considered more pragmatic.

Mr. Haniya also said his government intended to keep Gaza’s state of cease-fire with Israel active for 2011. He said one of the “government’s priorities for the next year is to maintain the national understanding inside Gaza that the Palestinian resistance factions work on.” That understanding is that rockets will not be fired on Israel unless Gaza is attacked. Hamas and Israel have been observing a shaky, undeclared truce since Israel ended its three-week invasion nearly two years ago. The stated goal of that operation was to stop the rocket fire.

Mr. Haniya denied the presence of any cells of Al Qaeda in Gaza and condemned Israeli raids that killed three militants affiliated with a Qaeda-inspired group, Army of Islam, here last month. “This is a dangerous assassination,” he said. He added that all militant groups in Gaza worked only inside their national borders, thereby denying Israeli reports that the slain were planning attacks against Israeli tourists in the nearby Sinai Peninsula.

Mr. Haniya criticized European diplomats who visit Gaza and do not meet with members of his government or the Hamas movement. “We don’t understand why they don’t meet the legal government,” he said. He said his government had started contacting United Nations organizations in Gaza, which arrange the diplomats’ schedules and tours in the coastal strip, to emphasize that the visitors “must coordinate” with Hamas even if they do not want to meet it. “They should knock on the door and hear the permission before they enter the house,” he said.

Israel did not relax its blockade, Mr. Haniya said, adding that it had only “applied marginal changes” of its policy toward Gaza since June.

Israel is now letting most of civilians’ goods into Gaza. The decision was taken after global criticism of its May raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, during which eight Turks and an American-Turkish youth were killed.

“There is no essential change on the nature of the siege,” Mr. Haniya said. NYT