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Gush Shalom meets with two Hamas leaders

"We have no trouble talking to Israel, but we don't want to hold idle talks about nothing" said Sheikh Muhammad Abu-Ter, number 2 on the Hamas parliamentary slate to eight members of the Gush Shalom board, during an official meeting.


Another Hamas legislator taking part in the meeting was Ahmad Atun, of Tzur Bahr neighborhood in East Jerusalem, who like Abu-Ter faces a deportation order signed by Interior Minister Bar-On.

Gush Shalom decided on this meeting as preparation for some initial contact between the Israeli public and the Hamas movement which represents a significant part of the Palestinian public. It was agreed with Abu-Ter to aim at a wider meeting between Israeli peace groups and the Hamas leadership.

Gush Shalom speakers condemned the planned expulsion from Jerusalem of the Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament. "This is a vicious plan, which violates basic human rights and which threatens not only the four direct victims, but actually all 250 000 Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem, and we will not remain silent about it."

The two Hamas leaders said that Yasser Arafat "has signed all the papers" with Israel, but got nothing in return. "We will talk with Israel, as soon as it is clear from the start that the government of Israel is serious about negotiating and intends to reach results within a not too long drawn-out span of time."

Abu-Ter said that Hamas is willing to stop all violence in the framework of a 20 to 30-years Hudna (cease-fire) on condition that Israel will also stop all violence from its side. When asked what will happen afterwards, he said: "Let's leave it to our children to deal with the problems in thirty years; perhaps there won't be problems anymore." The thirty-year period would make it possible for the sides to see that the other side is not a band of monsters; that life side by side is possible, and the Hudna could be extended indefinitely.

To the question whether Hamas can guarantee the stopping of violence by all organizations, including the Islamic Jihad, Abu-Ter said: "Definitely!" During the two hours-long conversation the two speakers reiterated Hamas agreeing to the formation of A Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Abu-Ter, who had spent 25 years in Israeli prison, told that during his incarceration he had talked several times for hours each time with the present head of the Israeli Shabak (Security Service) Yuval Diskin. Abu-Ter also told jokingly about an Israeli officer at a road-block who wanted to be photographed together with him, whereupon the other soldiers present asked to have such a photo as well. However, on another occasion, soldiers at a checkpoint made him wait for four hours, to in the end send him back where he came from.

Abu-Ter and Atun did not seem too worried about the internal strife inside the Palestinian authority and expressed their belief that in the end an agreement will be achieved: "The Americans are trying to incite Fatah against us, hoping to break our elected government. There is no chance of that. It will only strengthen our popular support" they said.

The Gush Shalom people from their part reiterated that they have no intention to take position in an internal Palestinian debate, and that their purpose is to achieve peace between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine to arise through negotiations between the elected governments of both sides, with the intention that all Palestinian movements and political parties will share in this peace.

Click here to view pictures from the meeting