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WORLD

Israeli, Palestinian diplomats face off on future of peace process

From Elise Labott
CNN

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Palestinian diplomat Afif Safieh says the world should not "demonize" Hamas or Palestinians.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israel wants Hamas to recognize its right to exist; Palestinians want an end to "Islamophobia" -- so said representatives of the two governments, sharing a panel at a Washington think tank.

If Hamas, which recently won a ruling bloc in Palestinian elections, can accept terms set forth by the United States, Russia, the U.N. and European Union, then "we can do business," said Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States.

Last week, after holding a ministerial meeting in London, the four nations issued a statement calling on Hamas to recognize Israel, denounce violence and terrorism and disband its militias.

"As challenging and dramatic and dangerous as the Palestinian elections were, it has not changed Israel's policy" of finding a two-state solution, Ayalon said. "We don't want to dwell on the past. We want to be forward leaning."

Ayalon was sharing the panel Thursday with Afif Safieh, a veteran Palestinian diplomat and the new Palestinian representative to Washington.

Safieh said the world should not "demonize" Hamas or the Palestinians because Hamas can be a constructive partner in the peace process.

He blamed what he called the "self-inflicted impotence" of the international community for not finding a feasible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said that Israel "is hardly equipped to be a moral compass" given its actions against Palestinians.

"When is international opinion going to be as demanding of Israel as it was of Palestinians?" Safieh asked.

He added, "Islamophobia is the only acceptable form of racial bias."

Thursday's panel was the first meeting between Ayalon and Safieh. While throwing stones at each other's respective governments and policies, the two men were complimentary of each other.

Ayalon even called Safieh "my new friend," and the men shook hands at the end of the meeting.

Though Hamas has operated a successful network of charitable and social organizations for Palestinians, the group's charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

The United States, European Union and Israel list Hamas as a terrorist organization.

On Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said during a visit to Washington that a Palestinian government led by Hamas could be designated a terrorist state, subject to sanctions, if it refuses to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism.

So far, Hamas leaders have rejected calls to denounce violence and recognize Israel.

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