A former Israeli Prime Minister has proposed that Israel should open peace talks with the Islamic militant group Hamas, on certain conditions. The proposal comes ahead of Palestinian elections on January 25.
Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres says Israel would be willing to negotiate with Hamas if the group renounces violence after Palestinian parliamentary elections next week. Hamas, which has carried out dozens of deadly suicide bombings and seeks Israel's destruction, is expected to make a strong showing in the vote.
Peres, who is the architect of the Oslo Accords, the first Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in 1993, could be appointed Israel's chief negotiator after Israeli elections on March 28. He hopes that by joining the political process, Hamas will moderate its views.
"Clearly, we are waiting also to see what will happen on the Palestinian side," Peres said. "Today they are highly divided, but maybe the elections will force all of them to reassemble their own forces and to create a central force, so they will be able to move toward a permanent peace."
But Peres is not part of the current government, and the official Israeli position is not as optimistic. Government spokesman Mark Regev says Hamas is a terrorist organization, plain and simple.
"But I think everyone has to understand that these groups like Islamic Jihad, like Hamas, they don't want to see peace, they don't want to see reconciliation, they're the enemies of both Israel and the Palestinians and that they don't want to build a better future," Regev said.
Hamas is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations. And under the internationally-backed "road map" peace plan, Hamas and other militant groups must be disarmed by the Palestinian Authority. But Hamas leaders have said time and again that they will not disarm. A Hamas campaign video vows to continue the jihad, or holy war, until, in the group's words, "every inch of Palestine is liberated and the state of Israel is destroyed."