Hamas would accept peace with Israel, West Bank leader says

In first, Sheikh Hassan Yousef says Islamists will support an accord should it pass a referendum, offers interim cease-fire

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters during a rally to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the assassination of the group's spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin in an Israeli airstrike a decade ago, in Gaza City, Sunday, March 23, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters during a rally to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the assassination of the group's spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin in an Israeli airstrike a decade ago, in Gaza City, Sunday, March 23, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A top Hamas official in the West Bank said his hard-line group would accept a peace deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel should it win approval in a national referendum.

“It is our right to oppose an agreement that [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas brings, like you have your own opposition, but I stress here: we will accept the results of a national referendum and the decision of the majority,” Sheikh Hassan Yousef told The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has promised to bring any agreement with Israel to a referendum that would include the Palestinian diaspora.

Yousef’s words mark a departure for Hamas, which in the past has rejected any deal with Israel and has refused even to recognize the state. However, Yousef said there could be peace if Israel withdraws to the 1967 lines, which Hamas leaders in the past have said they would accept.

Sheikh Hassan Yousef. (Screen capture: YouTube via Fox News)
Sheikh Hassan Yousef. (Screen capture: YouTube via Fox News)

“If Israel will accept the rights of our nation and allow the establishment of the Palestinian state with full sovereignty like any other people, in my estimation it is possible there will be peace. However, so far Israel ignores the rights of the Palestinian nation. Hamas agrees to the idea of creating a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with full sovereignty. The occupation forces must leave our lands they occupied in 1967,” he said.

Speaking from his Ramallah office, Yousef said that Hamas would be willing to abandon terror attacks against Israel should the two sides agree on a cease-fire.

“The movement [Hamas] is prepared to sign a hudna [temporary cease-fire] agreement with the occupying Israeli power, for a period of time agreed upon by the two sides,” he said.

According to Yousef, who was released from Israeli prison two months ago, the Palestinian nation is not interested in further suffering.

Before an agreement with Israel is reached, though, internal Palestinian reconciliation must be first completed, Yousef said, noting that the PA jails currently hold approximately 150 Hamas members.

He said that Hamas, in an about-face, is ready to call elections immediately, thereby ending its rift with the competing Fatah movement.

The main point of contention between Hamas and Fatah has been around this issue, with Fatah demanding elections within three months and Hamas insisting they be postponed indefinitely.

“I am ready for general, immediate elections,” Yousef said. However, he stressed, they must be “in a suitable atmosphere. That is to say, if the Palestinian Authority will release political prisoners, Hamas offices will be opened, the PA Parliament will return to normal operation and Hamas be given the permits to hold rallies and meetings. I repeat: Hamas will accept the results of the elections, including on Gaza – if they will be with reconciliation, of course.”

Ten years after the assassination of movement leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Israel still has not internalized the lesson from its actions, Yousef said. “Hamas has grown stronger since Yassin was assassinated, not the opposite. The movement exists and acts and can’t be ignored.”

Yousef is perhaps most well-known as the father of Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Hamas defector who turned against the organization and converted to Christianity, going public about his experiences in a book and as the subject of the recent film “The Green Prince.”

The full interview is to be published over the weekend.

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