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Hamas officials say group willing to disarm if Palestinian state is established

Abbas Al Lawati

Some Hamas officials are signaling that the militant group could give up armed struggle against Israel if the Palestinians get an independent state in territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

The messaging suggests a softening of Hamas’ position as its fate hangs in the balance with Israel’s pummeling of the Gaza Strip, which Hamas ruled before the war. The Palestinian militant group has long called for the Jewish state to be destroyed.

Basem Naim, an Istanbul-based member of Hamas’ political bureau, told CNN on Thursday that the group would agree to disarm if an independent Palestinian state was established.

“If an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem, while preserving the right of return for refugees, (is created) Al Qassam could be integrated into (a future) national army,” he said, referring to the group’s armed wing.

Hamas has traditionally rejected a two-state solution that would see a Palestinian state established alongside Israel and has instead advocated the creation of a Palestinian state in all of historic Palestine that today encompasses Israel, the occupied West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Mustafa Barghouti, President of the Palestinian National Initiative, said he wasn’t aware of Hamas offering to lay down its arms before, but said it would be a significant move if true.

“It’s significant in the sense that Palestinians are resisting occupation because there is an occupation,” he told CNN. “If the occupation is not there, they don’t need to resist it,” he said, referring to Israel’s military control of territories captured in 1967, where millions of Palestinians live.

Offer criticized as PR stunt

Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said the demand for Palestinian refugees’ return to their ancestral homes in what is today Israel would be a non-starter as it would amount to “the destruction of the state of Israel” where Jews form a majority.

He characterized Hamas’ offer as a public relations stunt aimed at Western nations.

“They see that there’s a lot of support in the Western world (for the Palestinians)… and they try to show that they’re the good guys, and Israel are the bad guys, and Israel will say no,” he said.

The United States and European states may use this to ask Israel “to give them a chance,” he said, but Israel is likely to take the gesture “with a grain of salt.”

The Netanyahu government has vowed to eliminate Hamas after it led an attack on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and kidnapping another 250.

Indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel to release the remaining 133 hostages have stalled.

US President Joe Biden, along with leaders from 17 other countries called on Hamas to release the hostages in a rare joint statement on Thursday, urging the group to accept the terms of a deal they say “would bring an immediate and prolonged ceasefire in Gaza that would facilitate a surge of additional necessary humanitarian assistance to be delivered throughout Gaza and lead to credible end of hostilities.

On Wednesday, senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told The Associated Press in Istanbul that the group would accept “a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with the international resolutions.”

Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 war. Those territories are considered under international law and by most of the international community as occupied, and they are where the Palestinians want to establish a future state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long opposed such a prospect, arguing that it would endanger his country’s security.

Naim told CNN on Thursday that Hamas seeks to join the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) provided that the group would undergo “reforms” in its charter and administration.

Hamas has refrained from joining the PLO, an umbrella grouping of Palestinian factions that signed peace agreements with it in the 1990s.

Barghouti said Hamas indicated as far back as 2007, when it led a Palestinian national unity government, that it is willing to accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. Hamas, he added, has also been in favor of joining the PLO, but such a move wouldn’t automatically amount to recognition of Israel or the Oslo Accords that the PLO signed with it in the 1990s.

Hamas has not issued an official statement outlining the concessions its officials have touted and it is unclear if statements made by its officials abroad reflect the thinking of its military wing on the ground in Gaza.

Laying down of arms “is certainly” the position of Hamas if the conditions are met, Naim said. Asked if that amounts to a shift in Hamas’ position, Naim told CNN the position is reflective of the group’s messaging since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Israel has so far failed to achieve its stated goal of eliminating Hamas from the Gaza Strip, with no top leaders from the group captured or killed, but it has significantly diminished its military capabilities and its ability to rule there as its bombing campaign leaves the enclave in ruin.

Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said at a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha that Hamas is willing to function solely as a political party once a Palestinian state is created, citing meetings between the group and Turkish officials.

He called on Hamas “to express their stances clearly.”

Inbar, from the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said that after October 7, Israelis treat Hamas as a hostile entity and want to see it defeated. “We understand that they will try to rebuild the military infrastructure” after Israel destroys it, he said, adding that Israel will continue to “mow the grass,” a reference to occasional military operations to diminish Hamas’ military capability.

CNN’s Zeena Saifi and Abeer Salman contributed to this report.

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