Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday said the Palestinian unity government Hamas and Fatah will form as part of their reconciliation deal will recognize Israel and respect its international agreements.
Speaking at a meeting of the PLO Central Council in Ramallah, Abbas spoke for over an hour in a mostly impromptu address that covered a range of topics, focusing on the peace talks with Israel and the reconciliation deal reached between Hamas and Fatah earlier this week. A member of the Islamist movement Hamas attended the meeting.
Abbas said that the unity government which he is to lead will be an independent, technocratic government without Hamas or Fatah politicians. He emphasized that it would not deal with the negotiations with Israel.
“That is not its concern, that [falls within] the PLO’s authority,” the PA president said. “At the same time, I recognize Israel and it will recognize Israel. I reject violence and it will reject violence. I recognize the legitimacy of international agreements and it will recognize them. The government is committed to what I am committed. No one should claim now that it’s a government of terror.”
Abbas said, however, that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Concerning the impending expiration of the peace talks with Israel, Abbas said he was still interested in extending the negotiations beyond their April 29 deadline, but reiterated his demand that Israel freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, free the final group of 26 Palestinian prisoners, and begins discussions on the future borders of a Palestinian state.
The PA president lambasted Israel, saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was determined not to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians and that Israel’s refusal to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas is proof it is not committed to a two-state solution. He praised US Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts, saying he was serious about helping the two sides reach a negotiated peace.
Abbas claimed that Israel wanted the political division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip which has endured since Hamas violently took over the latter territory in 2007.
“The Israelis agreed to the rift, supported and loved the division. And why? Because every time that we came to negotiate with Israel, it said ‘But with whom will we speak, with Gaza or the West Bank?’ So we made reconciliation. Now they tell us to choose between Gaza and negotiations. But this is our people, this is our land.”
Noting that Israel considered Hamas a terrorist organization, Abbas pointed out that Israel held indirect negotiations with Hamas on multiple occasions, including in late 2012 to reach a ceasefire to end Operation Pillar of Defense.
“But you Israelis made deals with them, no? You reached a ceasefire agreement with the mediation of [ousted Egyptian president] ‘Sheikh’ [Mohammed] Morsi,” Abbas said. “We are not opposed to a truce, but you made the deal and now you’re telling me, ‘You must not go with Hamas?'”
Abbas said that in the past two days hope was renewed with the unity deal reached by Fatah and Hamas.
The last time the PCC convened was three years ago.
Israel suspended the peace talks over the deal, saying it would have no dealings with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, which is pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Israel and the United States had been hoping to extend the faltering peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline, but the efforts hit a wall last month when Israel refused to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners.
The Palestinians retaliated by applying to adhere to 15 international treaties and then Abbas, who heads the PLO, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah, listed conditions for extending the talks beyond the April 29 deadline.
In the unity deal penned this week, Hamas and the Fatah-led PLO agreed to establish a “national consensus” government under Abbas within weeks.
The reconciliation deal infuriated Israel, which said it would “not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” and vowed unspecified “measures” in response.
On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said US efforts to broker a peace deal had not failed, but were currently in a “holding period” as Palestinians and Israelis decide their next move.
She noted Abbas had insisted that any government formed with Hamas backing would “represent his policies, and that includes recognition of Israel, commitment to non-violence, adherence to prior agreements and commitment to peaceful negotiations toward a two-state solution.”
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said, however, that the Palestinians received no official statement from Washington about a change in the US’s aid policy vis-á-vis the Palestinians in light of the reconciliation deal, according to Israel Radio. Congressional Republicans and Democrats signaled Friday that any permanent agreement between the PA and Hamas, which the US designates a terrorist organization, would force the US to end some $400 million in economic and security aid provided annually.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah informed Abbas Friday he would resign if the president deemed it necessary for the formation of the new unity government, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
AFP and AP contributed to this report.