- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hamas’ nominee for Palestinian finance minister, Omar Abdel Razeq, said yesterday that he hopes to negotiate a new economic treaty with Israel, even though he supports the Islamic militant party’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state for peace talks.

The desire to embrace Israel in what would amount to a major treaty indicates how Hamas politicians and the ministerial nominees have resigned themselves to a de facto acknowledgement of Israel to improve the daily lives of their constituents.

The remarks were made a day before Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh, of Hamas, is slated to bring his Cabinet before the Palestinian parliament for a vote of confidence. The 24-member Cabinet is supposed to be sworn in this week, completing the democratic transfer of power after Hamas scored a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in January.

Mr. Abdel Razeq, a professor of economics at An-Najah National University in Nablus, told The Washington Times in an interview at a Ramallah hotel that he hopes the Israeli-Palestinian economics committees established under the Oslo agreements continue.

The nominee, who was just released from an Israeli jail, also said he would be ready to meet an Israeli counterpart to discuss a revision of a customs regime negotiated as part of the 1995 Paris economic agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“We realize that we are still under occupation, we are under siege, so we have to do anything that eases the daily life problems faced by our people,” he said. “We have daily relationships with Israel. We can’t just blindfold our eyes and say we don’t see the Israelis. The Israelis are there. They occupy our people, our economy and the whole system.”

Mr. Abdel Razeq expressed hope that the Israeli government would unfreeze $55 million in customs revenue collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority but held in escrow by the government of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Mr. Abdel Razeq said the customs freeze was a decision dictated by Israel’s election campaign.

Mr. Abdel Razeq reiterated Hamas’ refusal to consider a long-term cease-fire or peace treaty with Israel until the Jewish state agrees to withdraw unconditionally to the 1967 border between the West Bank and Israel. However, Mr. Haniyeh expressed hopes for peace in the Gaza Strip, saying yesterday that Hamas doesn’t want the cycle of violence to continue.

Mr. Abdel Razeq’s willingness to negotiate an economic treaty with Israel didn’t make an impression on Israeli officials.

“Israel and most of the international community won’t be doing any negotiating with Hamas unless Hamas substantially changes its position,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. “All of the words coming out of the Hamas leadership up until now have been nothing but verbal gymnastics.”

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