MK Shaul Mofaz, Kadima's second-in-command and avowed contender for the main opposition party's leadership, dropped a political bombshell yesterday by saying he would be willing to conduct diplomatic negotiations with Hamas.

At a press conference to unveil his new diplomatic platform, whose main element is establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders on 60 percent of the West Bank within a year, he was asked whether he would agree to negotiate with Hamas.

Mofaz, who is considered the leader of Kadima's right flank, said he would "if Hamas chooses and wants to sit at the negotiating table. Because at that moment, it would effectively accept the Quartet's conditions and would no longer be Hamas. I think the State of Israel must sit with any party that changes its agenda, and I believe a responsible leader should sit with Hamas if that organization changes its agenda."

Quartet conditions

The Quartet, comprised of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, has conditioned contacts with Hamas on it agreeing to recognize Israel, renounce terror and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Mofaz, however, added that he "knows that Hamas continues to stockpile long-range missiles and prepare for the next round."

Sources close to Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni called the idea of talking with Hamas "bizarre" and accused Mofaz of being motivated by political considerations. Livni herself refused to comment.

However, Kadima sources said, the very fact that Mofaz has unveiled a diplomatic platform will probably force Livni to announce an updated one of her own, lest he be viewed as having seized the initiative.

Mofaz is currently trying to push forward the date of the party's leadership race, so he could benefit if he is viewed as the more assertive Kadima leader.

Mofaz insisted that his plan was not politically motivated, but quickly undermined that claim by saying he "hopes to have the privilege of implementing the plan as prime minister."

Hamas, meanwhile, promptly rejected the overture. Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas does not believe in negotiating with the "Zionist enemy."

Mofaz, who a few months ago had been considered a leading candidate to bolt his party and join Likud, also attacked the Likud-led government for the "diplomatic freeze."

"It's irresponsible," he said. "Time is running out; it is not on our side. More and more parties worldwide are raising the option of a binational state ... Israel is viewed as rejectionist as long as the diplomatic freeze continues, and the likelihood of another round of terror is increasing .... No leader has the privilege of sitting with folded hands."

Mofaz said he had presented his new platform to President Shimon Peres and Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak - both of whom "expressed interest - as well as to senior Palestinian officials and most Kadima parliamentarians. Livni, however, has yet to see it.

Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.