Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal on Thursday emphatically rejected the recently repackaged Arab League peace initiative, warning that the plan would cause Palestinians harm.
The longstanding Arab plan was amended Monday to allow for “mutually agreed” land swaps in a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, after a meeting between Arab League officials and US Secretary of State John Kerry. The announcement was made by Qatar’s prime minister, Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani, in Washington.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, a member of the the PA’s ruling Fatah party — Hamas’s rival — was quick to endorse the apparently softened Arab League stance on negotiations, saying that minor land swaps that would obviate the need to evacuate major Israeli settlement blocs were consistent with the PA’s position.
In an interview with Al Jazeera Thursday, the Qatar-based Mashaal rejected the idea of land swaps, and contended that the goal of the US-backed plan wasn’t to better the Palestinians’ lot but rather to help integrate Israel into the region.
The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, initiated by Saudi Arabia, offered Israel a chance to normalize relations with 22 Arab nations in exchange for territorial concessions, a resolution of Palestinian refugee claims, and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Mashaal said his goal was “to liberate the Palestinian territories over the next four years,” and that he was prepared to use all options available to him — but that the Arab League peace initiative would “harm the Palestinian cause.”
He said his second goal was to free Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was set to meet with Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, on Thursday, according to the UN head’s spokesman Martin Nesirky.
On Tuesday evening, Hamas expressed “grave concern” over the new push for a peace deal with land swaps, saying, “Our long experience with the Zionist enemy has taught us that the enemy searches for more concessions on our rights and national principles.”
According to a statement published on the movement’s official website, ”The occupation does not want peace, but merely wishes to impose surrender on our people and nation. It attempts to buy time by speaking about the illusion of peace while imposing a policy of fait accompli.”
Hamas’s statement came amid an enthusiastic endorsement of the Arab League move by Kerry. Speaking at the State Department on Tuesday, Kerry acknowledged the existence of “hurdles to clear,” but added that the Arab League overture could not be underestimated.
“We are prepared to make peace now in 2013,” Kerry said.