- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas could accept two of the international community’s three conditions for lifting a crippling six-month-old aid boycott, but it will not recognize Israel’s right to exist, the top political adviser to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in an interview.

The Palestinian militants understand that they need to show more flexibility toward the international community, said Ahmed Yousef, the former director of an Islamic think tank based in Fairfax County.

He spoke before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas won international support for a national-unity government, made up of Hamas and his Fatah party, in New York yesterday.

Mr. Haniyeh had said earlier this year that the Palestinians would subsist on olives and salt before bowing to pressure, and Mr. Yousef echoed some of those unyielding positions even as he spoke of compromise.

But he acknowledged that Hamas had botched its handling of Palestinian foreign relations and said the Islamic militants want to work with Mr. Abbas “to restore our excellent relationship with the European Union and the Arab world.”

As for the relationship with the United States, Mr. Yousef said, “We can work on it, but I don’t expect much will come out of the Bush administration. They don’t sound friendly to the Palestinian people.”

Shortly after Hamas scored an upset victory in parliamentary elections this year, the Quartet issued a statement insisting that “all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map.”

The so-called “road map” for Mideast peace is a 2003 plan developed by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations (the Quartet).

International aid to the Palestinians has been withheld until the Hamas government meets the three conditions.

“We still have a lot of reservations about recognizing Israel’s right to exist,” said Mr. Yousef. But later he said, “We’ll accept two of the three” conditions.

Hamas is being pushed toward compromise by mounting anger in the streets, fed by the government’s inability to pay salaries for the past six months. A poll last week showed that a majority of Palestinians are dissatisfied with Hamas’ job performance, although they support Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel by a 2-to-1 margin.

Mr. Yousef receives visitors in a small four-floor office building that was chosen as a headquarters for Mr. Haniyeh because of the ease of securing the building. Several bearded men with rifles guard the front door and keep watch in a waiting room.

“The security situation is not healthy in Gaza,” Mr. Yousef said.

In the interview, Mr. Yousef likened Hamas to an organization of political novices who are just beginning to understand the rules of international diplomacy.

“Politics has costs that are sometimes difficult to swallow,” he said. “If you’re going to deal with politics, there needs to be give and take.”

However, an Israeli spokesman made clear that Hamas will still have to give up much more if it hopes to escape from its international isolation.

“I think that accepting Israel’s right to exist is the basis for political legitimacy,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. “If you don’t accept Israel’s right to exist, how can you be considered a legitimate party?”

Though Hamas’ charter says peace talks contradict the principles of the movement, Mr. Yousef said the party would allow Mr. Abbas to negotiate with Israel on behalf of a unity government.



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