Breaking the silence following its joint reconciliation announcement with Fatah last week, Hamas said on Sunday that it would not recognize Israel, although it indicated it would not obstruct negotiations between the PLO and the Jewish state.
Hamas and Fatah agreed on April 23 to implement the 2011 Cairo reconciliation agreement, stipulating the formation of an interim technocrat government within five weeks, followed by general parliamentary and presidential elections in Gaza and the West Bank within six months.
At first, Hamas’s only official comment to Wednesday’s “Gaza declaration” was a laconic statement declaring Palestinian unity to be “a national achievement and an important junction in Palestinian history.”
But subsequent comments by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas saying that a unity government led by him will recognize Israel, coupled with statements to the same effect attributed to Hamas government spokesman Taher Nunu by The Washington Post on Saturday night, prompted several Hamas officials to speak up on Sunday.
“What I was quoted as telling the American paper is wrong, and I unequivocally deny it,” Nunu told the Palestinian Qudsnet news agency. “The issue of Hamas recognizing Israel is a complete nonstarter… aimed primarily at weakening the movement’s positions on Israel.”
Nunu said he would seek legal recourse against The Washington Post for its “false report.”
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Hamas movement, was more troubled on Sunday by calls directed at Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to resign. PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah tendered his resignation to Abbas on Friday, pending a presidential decision.
“We do not talk about resignations, but rather about a new government that will be formed within just five weeks,” Abu Zuhri told the Hamas-affiliated Quds Press news agency. “The Ismail Haniyeh government is prepared to relinquish power the moment the new government is formed.”
With regards to recognizing Israel, Abu Zuhri proceeded to distinguish between the Palestinian government — tasked with domestic affairs — and the PLO (of which Hamas is not a part), whose role has included negotiating with Israel.
“We acknowledge that Abbas’s recognition of the occupation is his traditional position, nothing new. The [Hamas] movement position is unwavering in not recognizing the occupation in any form. In any event, negotiations are the task of the PLO; the government has no part in them,” Abu Zuhri said.
Sheikh Hassan Youssef, a Hamas official in the West Bank who told The Times of Israel last week that Palestinian reconciliation would serve the peace process, rushed to clarify on Sunday that Hamas would never recognize Israel.
“The question of recognition is non-debatable as long as [Israel] occupies our land,” Youssef told the website of Hamas newspaper Al-Resalah on Sunday. He asserted that the PLO was in charge of negotiations and Palestinian foreign policy, adding that “Hamas is not responsible for its relations with Israel.”