JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has dismissed as ridiculous a proposal from the main Palestinian militant group, Hamas, to declare a
10-year truce if the Jewish state withdraws from territory occupied since 1967.
Top Hamas official Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi told Reuters late on Sunday Hamas had come to the conclusion that it was "difficult to liberate all
our land at this stage, so we accept a phased liberation".
"We accept a state in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. We propose a 10-year truce in return for (Israeli) withdrawal
and the establishment of a state," he said in a telephone interview from hiding in the Gaza Strip.
His comments appeared to strengthen signs of a big political shift by a faction sworn to destroy Israel and now seeming to move closer to
the aims of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
Israel says any talk of Hamas moderation is a smokescreen for military preparations by a group at the forefront of suicide bombings and
"It is quite ridiculous that a terrorist organisation sets conditions for a ceasefire," said government spokesman Avi Pazner on Monday in
response to Rantissi's proposal.
Rantissi said it would not mean that Hamas recognised Israel or spell the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Hamas has led a suicide bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of Israelis during more than three years of violence.
It has rejected peace talks and demanded that a Palestinian state be formed on all the land that was Palestine under the British mandate
preceding the creation of Israel more than five decades ago.
But analysts said some members wanted Hamas to become a more credible political force to profit from the Palestinian Authority's
weakening hold. They favour forming a collective Palestinian leadership in which Hamas would have a big role.
"It is clear Hamas is now prepared to articulate a different discourse, but internally it is still confused," said Palestinian analyst Bassem
The spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, said recently the group could accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip -- territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, but he gave no indication how long that might ensure peace.
Rantissi said the truce could last 10 years, though "not more than 10 years".
Israel dismisses any hint that Hamas might be softening its stance, particularly after a suicide bombing killed four Israelis at a border
crossing on January 14.
Israeli officials also say it would be impossible to return to pre-1967 borders, emphasising that the Palestinians could not expect East
Jerusalem, some major Jewish settlements or other land deemed vital for security.
Rantissi said discussion within Hamas on accepting a state in just the West Bank and Gaza was not new, but that "the movement has taken
a decision on this".
Rantissi said he did not expect Israel to respond favourably to the new suggestion, "when it has rejected the Palestinian Authority's offer for
less land than what we are proposing".