Hamas published a draft of its government programme on its website on Saturday.

The fifth article in the programme says: "
The question of recognising Israel is not the jurisdiction of one faction, nor the government, but a decision for the Palestinian people."

 

Handing the issue over to a popular referendum would neatly disengage Hamas from being labelled as a hardline movement that refuses to recognise Israel on ideological grounds.

 

The US and EU have repeatedly said they will cut financial aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas forms a government that does not recognise Israel.

 

But any referendum would leave the US and the EU with little choice but to resume funding the Palestinians, regardless of the outcome of a vote, because America and Europe have always pledged not to punish the Palestinian people.

 

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Sunday that the movement believes that the issue of recognising Israel is one between states and governments, not political parties.

 

"The recognition of a state should come from a government of a state not from a political, party, group or organisation," he said.

 

"Hamas in particular is not entitled, and it is not its mission, to determine whether Israel is a recognised state or not." 

 

Likud Campaign

Likud, the right-wing party trailing in the run-up to an Israeli election on 28 March, has rejected any Palestinian state led by Hamas, which won elections in January.

Speaking to the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, which published an outline of the Likud campaign platform on Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the party leader and former prime minister, asked: "Should I be talking about concessions when the Hamas government is in power?

"At the moment there is nothing to be done and we need to fight Hamas. As long as Hamas is in control, we will not return any territory to them, we will not transfer any money to them and we will not allow Palestinian workers to work in Israel. Our platform will be revised according to circumstances."

In the same vein, the Likud platform argues that the internationally drafted roadmap peace plan, in which a Palestinian state would live alongside Israel in peace, is a dead letter.

"The continued outline of the roadmap is impossible in light of  the absence of a legitimate partner," it said.