BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hamas will accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, but will maintain its refusal to recognize Israel, party leader Mahmoud Az-Zahhar said Wednesday.
Speaking with Ma'an radio, the official said that Hamas was ready to recognize a Palestinian state "on any part of Palestine," for the first time publicly steering away from prior Hamas demands that the modern Palestinian state must be established "from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea."
Az-Zahhar also said, however, that a formal recognition of Israel would "cancel the right of the next generations to liberate the lands."
The Hamas leader said that recognizing Israel would jeopardize the right of return for Palestinian refugees who have been exiled from the land since 1948 when Israel was recognized by the United Nations.
If only Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are considered citizens of a Palestinian state, he continued, "what will be the fate of the five million Palestinians in the diaspora?"
At the same time, the Hamas leader confirmed the decision reached with Fatah to maintain the truce with Israel, calling the move "part of the resistance, not a cancellation," and noting that "truce is not peace."
The comments came as Palestinians and the international community await details of a unity agreement signed by Hamas and its former rival Fatah. The deal, signed in Cairo on May 4, paved the way for the creation of a unity government that will see the Hamas-led government in Gaza and the Fatah-led cabinet in the West Bank dissolved and replaced by a single cabinet of independent technocrats.
The new body will set a path to elections within the year, as committees established by the deal work to unify the Palestinian security forces in the two territories and set a government platform which will include the reconstruction of Gaza.
Already, officials announced that a deal had been made which will see the release of political prisoners from both areas within the week. 'Not a good time' for Abbas in Gaza
Since a March 16 invitation from Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh, President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has been expected to travel to Gaza and symbolically cement the unity agreement with a handshake between the leaders.
According to Az-Zahhar, "complications from the [years of] division," have made that visit "impossible for the moment," saying the social scene in Gaza was "lurching, and needs efforts to solidify the reconciliation between the major families" of the coastal enclave.
He said he could also not guarantee that "Israel will not send its infiltrators to shoot Abbas," or that some families against the President's positions would not "come out and throw rocks at him."
The official also commented on a Fatah announcement that institutions for the party closed in the wake of the near-civil war of 2007 would be re-opened. "It will be hard for the former security officials to come back and open the offices in this period," he said calling the announcement premature.
Az-Zahhar said that while he had high hopes for unity and its impact on the immanent creation of a Palestinian state, he had doubts that the project would be completed by September, a deadline set by the PA before a unity deal was struck.