Hamas willing to accept Israel as neighbor

JERUSALEM – Former President Carter said yesterday that Hamas – the Islamic militant group that has called for the destruction of Israel – is prepared to accept the right of the Jewish state to “live as a neighbor next door in peace.”

But Carter warned that there would not be peace if Israel and the U.S. continue to shut out Hamas and its main backer, Syria.

The Democratic former president spoke in Jerusalem after meeting last week with top Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, and his deputy in Syria. It capped a nine-day visit to the Mideast aimed at breaking the deadlock between Israel and Hamas militants who rule the Gaza Strip.

“They (Hamas) said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, if approved by Palestinians and that they would accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door in peace,” Carter said.

In Damascus, Mashaal said Hamas was offering Israel a 10-year truce if it withdraws from all lands it seized in the 1967 war.

He confirmed that Hamas would be satisfied with a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders – implicitly accepting that Israel would exist alongside that state. But Mashaal stressed the group would never outright recognize the Jewish state.

“We agree to a (Palestinian) state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements but without recognizing Israel,” Mashaal told reporters.

He appeared to be referring to east Jerusalem, since Israel held west Jerusalem before 1967. After the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, Israel declared the entire city of Jerusalem as its capital.

The borders they referred to were the frontiers that existed before Israel captured large swaths of Arab lands in the 1967 Mideast war – including the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

In the past, Hamas officials have said they would establish a “peace in stages” if Israel were to withdraw to the borders it held before 1967. But it has been evasive about how it sees the final borders of a Palestinian state and has not abandoned its official call for Israel’s destruction.