JERUSALEM -- Senior Palestinian militants imprisoned in Israeli jails hammered out a proposal softening Hamas's rejection of Israel's right to exist in what could be a first step toward moderation for the Islamic militant group, Palestinian officials said yesterday.
The proposal, accepting a Palestinian state alongside Israel, was signed by a well-known Hamas militant, but it's far from clear if it will be accepted by the group's hard-line leaders abroad, who have resisted international demands to recognize Israel and renounce violence. Hamas officials in Damascus had no immediate comment.
Since Hamas won Jan. 25 parliamentary elections, the Palestinian government has grown increasingly isolated. Western nations, which list Hamas as a terror group, cut off all funding to the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli government froze monthly transfers of $55 million it collects in taxes for the Palestinians.
The economic boycott has left the Palestinian government unable to pay salaries to its 165,000 workers, causing a deepening financial crisis throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
Stocks of fuel dwindled in recent days and many gas pumps ran dry after Dor Energy, the Israeli company that provides all fuel to the Palestinian territories, cut off supplies Wednesday, citing the Palestinian government's heavy debts.
But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas authorized the release of money to pay the debts, said Mohammed Mustafa, the head of the Palestinian Investment Fund. Israel's Channel 10 TV reported late yesterday that fuel shipments had resumed.
The apparent resolution came days after Western officials, fearing a humanitarian catastrophe in Palestinian towns, agreed to restore some aid to the Palestinians, as long as it was not handled by Hamas. Israeli officials also said they would consider releasing some of the withheld taxes to meet the Palestinians' humanitarian needs, but only if it bypassed Hamas.
In Washington, State Department official Sean McCormack praised the Israeli decision. ''Without knowing the details, I think that the initial reaction would be this is a good, positive step in addressing the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people," he said.
Since Hamas formed a Cabinet in March, the group's leaders have been searching for a way to end their government's international isolation.
Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank have hinted they might abandon the group's call for the destruction of Israel, but Khaled Mashaal, the Syria-based leader of Hamas, has rejected any suggestion of moderation.
The draft agreement was negotiated over the past month by militants held in Hadarim Prison next to the seaside Israeli city of Netanya, including Marwan Barghouthi, a leader of the Fatah Party, and Abdel Khaled Natche, the top Hamas militant held by Israel.
The proposal calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state ''in all the lands occupied in 1967," a reference to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
The document does not include explicit recognition of Israel, but even the implied recognition would mark a major shift for Hamas.
Mushir al-Masri, a Gaza-based Hamas spokesman, praised the prisoners' effort but refused to commit to the agreement. ''It could be a good base for a national platform and a national dialogue, but it still needs more discussion," he said yesterday.
Abbas said he backs the draft, which also authorizes him to lead peace talks with Israel based on what is referred to as ''Arab legitimacy," an apparent reference to an Arab peace initiative that calls for a two-state solution.
''This document is very important," Abbas said. ''It includes a deep and realistic political vision that to a very large extent represents my point of view . . . and thus I adopt it."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on the accord, calling it an internal Palestinian matter.
The draft agreement does not renounce violence, saying Palestinians should ''focus their resistance on the lands occupied in 1967."