The Palestinian Hamas movement has rejected a revised Middle East peace initiative put forward by the Arab League, saying outsiders can not decide the fate of the Palestinians.
In meetings this week in Washington, Arab states appeared to soften their 2002 peace plan, acknowledging that Israelis and Palestinians may have to swap land in any eventual peace deal.
The United States and the Palestinian leadership in the occupied West Bank praised the move. But speaking to hundreds of worshippers in a mosque in the Gaza Strip on Friday, senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh said it was a concession that other Arabs were not authorised to make.
“The so-called new Arab initiative is rejected by our people, by our nation and no one can accept it,” Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas government in the coastal enclave, said.
“The initiative contains numerous dangers to our people in the occupied land of 1967, 1948 and to our people in exile.”
He was referring to the partition of British-mandate Palestine in 1948 when the United Nations voted to divide the territory into a Jewish state and an Arab state, and to the 1967 war when Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
‘Not for sale’
Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist and claims all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river as rightfully Palestinian. It never accepted the Arab plan which was first presented in 2002.
“To those who speak of land swaps we say: Palestine is not a property, it is not for sale, not for a swap and cannot be traded,” Haniyeh said.
Haniyeh said the rival Palestinian Authority ruling the West Bank, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, was to blame for inspiring the softer Arab position because it accepted the need for land swaps with Israel.
Israel rejected the Arab peace plan when it was proposed 11 years ago. Israeli officials gave a cautious welcome to the new suggestions, but the government still objects to key points, including the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and the creation of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is seeking to revive direct peace talks that broke down in 2010 over the issue of Jewish settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
On Tuesday, he hailed the Arab League announcement as “a very big step forward”.
Israel’s top peace negotiator Tzipi Livni said in New York on Thursday that the modified Arab League initiative could bring new talks closer.
“It is [in] the interests of Israel, the interests of the Palestinians and the interests of the international community,” Livni told reporters after talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
“It is clear that Secretary Kerry is completely involved, determined, and I believe that basically it [new talks] is something that we need to do.”