Hamas ready for international talks on peace
GAZA CITY: Incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya said Monday his Hamas government was ready to talk to the international community to end the Middle East conflict but would not change its hard-line stance on Israel. Haniyya told MPs the Palestinians had the right to continue the independence "struggle" but stressed his desire for talks with the international community, including Washington, to end the conflict with Israel.
He also urged the United States, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, to alter its stance toward the Palestinians, and rejected threats from the West to slash funding unless his administration radically alters its hard-line platform.
His wide-ranging speech to the Palestinian Parliament had been due to be followed by a vote to approve his 24-member Cabinet but the number of MPs wanting to speak forced a delay until Tuesday, which coincides with Israel's national election.
"Our government will spare no effort to reach a just peace in the region, putting an end to the occupation and restoring out rights," Haniyya told MPs.
"We have never been supporters of war, terrorism or bloodletting. Instead it is the Israeli occupation that waged all forms of terrorism against our people in chasing them out of their homeland, besieging it and starving it."
Israel has refused to have any dealings with a Hamas-led government and has imposed sanctions including travel restrictions which forced Haniyya to deliver his speech to the Ramallah-based Parliament via video-link from Gaza City.
The Hamas-dominated administration is expected to take office on Wednesday.
But while holding off any suggestion of negotiating with Israel, Haniyya welcomed the prospect of continued international involvement in the peace process, in particular from the so-called Middle East Quartet.
"Our government will be prepared to hold dialogue with the international quartet about the ways to end the conflict and install calm in the region," he said.
The Quartet - the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States - is the sponsor of the largely moribund "road map" peace plan which aims for the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
Both the United States and European Union have threatened to slash funding to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas recognises Israel, renounces violence and respects past international agreements.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on Monday, "We will not turn our backs on the Palestinian people, too many of whom live in dire poverty."
"The EU respects their democratic choice but can only work with those who seek peace by peaceful means," she added.
Despite the Palestinian Authority's reliance on foreign aid, Haniyya said there would be no caving in to outside pressure.
"The Palestinian people should not be punished for exercising their right to choose their leaders in free and democratic elections," he said. "Those who think that economic pressure is going to make our government collapse or undermine the determination of our people are very much mistaken."
Israel warned that the incoming government's policy would leave it no choice but to declare Palestinian areas enemy territory and seal them off.
"If Hamas continues this way, the Palestinian Authority will be defined as a terrorist entity," the prime minister's office spokesman Raanan Gissin said.
Gissin added that if sustained, the Hamas-led government's policy would also force Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to deliver on his threat to set Israel's borders unilaterally by 2010.
"If we see that the Hamas program is the government's long-term policy, we will take our destiny into our own hands," said Gissin.
He appealed to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to approve the line-up Wednesday, to use his executive powers to veto the government.
Given Hamas' majority, Tuesday's parliamentary vote of confidence should be a formality, although Abbas' own Fatah faction will vote against it.
In his speech, Haniyya used the word "peace" five times and called for "resistance" only once, prompting members of Abbas' Fatah faction to suggest Hamas was either sending conflicting signals or going soft.
"I will not give this government my confidence because the higher national interests of the Palestinian people were absent," Fatah's Saeb Erekat said. - AP, AFP