Hamas Official: Israel Has a 'Golden Opportunity' to Reach Acceptable Solution

The conversation with Yihya Musa, number 18 on the Hamas list, started on the concrete steps of his house with a comment on the amount of work Hamas was creating for reporters. "Leave us alone and you won't have work," Musa proposed. Clearly, he was not referring to the reporters, but to the Israelis. Asked whether he meant for Israel to leave the '67 or the '48 borders, he answered without hesitation "'67."

"Israel has a golden opportunity," he told Haaretz in an interview at his home in the al-Amal refugee camp in Khan Yunis, "to save precious blood, time and resources and come to an acceptable solution." To Musa, such a solution does not require that Hamas recognize Israel.

Some in the movement say Musa will have an important role in molding the movement's positions in the years to come, his place on the list and his unknown status in the Israeli media notwithstanding.

Hamas' participation in the Palestinian Authority elections is a victory for the stream Musa has been representing for a decade. He established Khalas, which supported participation in day-to-day Palestinian political life, as part of Hamas in 1995. Its platform, like that of the Reform and Change party the Hamas list ran under in the recent elections, did not include a clause on an armed struggle as a means of action. The movement, which joined the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1996, elected Musa as its secretary general. It lost strength during the intifada; Musa was deposed and the party fell apart. But today, according to Musa, the Islamic Movement is more united than ever behind the viewpoint that "realistic needs must be considered, in keeping with the principles and thinking of our faith."

Reality, Musa says, places a "heavy burden" on a possible government headed by Hamas. Musa describes the "ruined institutions" left by Fatah, but says the Islamic Movement is gradually moving toward taking responsibility. "It will take time, especially for a religious movement, but Hamas has great flexibility."

Musa says there is no stand in principle against negotiating with Israel. But the basis of the negotiations in recent years he calls "unjust and harmful to our interests," and a "national disaster." Musa says negotiations "depended on Israel's will, and Israel proved it had no peace plan."

Musa says if negotiations are held on the basis that "the occupying government recognizes that this is occupied land and it is willing to leave it, then we will negotiate on the moves."

Musa adds that Hamas has no problem discussing civil matters with Israel, but he says: "The Palestinian Authority, which holds the diplomatic portfolio, recognized Israel. We are part of the PA. Why are we being required to recognize Israel? I don't tell you 'recognize Hamas.'"

Musa says if Israel wants to end the conflict, "it must talk with its enemies. We as Muslims are prepared to honor any agreement we reach." He proposes reaching a temporary solution. "Let's not deal with what will be after this temporary solution - in dozens of years, a hundred or a thousand. If you want to live where you live, and we where we live, alright. But there is no such thing as recognizing Israel. It's impossible."

"You could have gone anywhere in the world and established a magnificent civilization," Musa said, "but you came to the wrong place. But the Arab [Palestinian Muslim - A.H.] people will not stay weak forever. I recommend reaching an agreement, and from a position of equality we will reach a situation where we live in our country, in a respectable way, and so will you."