Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Saturday commented on the Palestinian unity deal between Fatah and Hamas, saying it did not have to spell and end to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel could potentially conduct talks with Hamas if the group renounces terror and recognizes Israel, Lapid told the Wall Street Journal.
“It’s not like it didn’t happen before,” he said, noting that the Palestinian Liberation Organization which controls the PA “used to be a terror organization” before it renounced terror and accepted Israel.
The minister said such normalization could also take place with Hamas, should it accept the terms of the Middle East Quartet: Recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by existing agreements between Israel and the PLO.
Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of Hamas’s founders and a prominent figure in the West Bank, did not outright reject the idea, but told the paper any change in the organization would take time and could not be forced by Israel or the US.
Lapid’s statements reflected a more open approach to the issue of Palestinian unity than those of his coalition partners, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett.
The prime minister has outright rejected any possibility of continuing peace negotiations with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, saying that in signing the unity deal with the terror group, PA President Mahmoud Abbas “chose Hamas and not peace. Whoever chooses Hamas doesn’t want peace.”
Bennett, of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party which has stubbornly opposed the US-led peace talks, ruled out any dialogue with groups that have taken part in anti-Israeli attacks.
“Hamas murders Jews, Fatah demands the release of the murderers of Jews. They worked together before and now they are continuing their collaboration,” Bennett said after news of the deal was released.
But Lapid, who heads Netanyahu’s chief coalition partner, Yesh Atid, was more cautious in his comments.
“If Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions… it will not, in effect, be Hamas any longer and then there’ll be a basis for discussion,” he told Israeli Radio last week. “We don’t see it at the moment, but we need to watch and wait and study what’s going on.”
His thoughts were echoed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, who told reporters last week it was crucial to wait and see what sort of Palestinian government emerged.
“The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas was quite a disappointment… but we decided to wait and see what happens on the Palestinian side when a new government is created,” she told reporters, noting that the government suspended rather than called off peace negotiations.
Lapid himself has called into doubt whether Palestinians truly want a state, telling The Times of Israel recently that they may instead prefer “to play the eternal victim.” Ultimately, he said, Israel might have to coerce the Palestinians into statehood — “to twist their arm in order to make them establish the free Palestine.”
He called the Palestinians “the first nation in history that are treating independence as a zero-sum game. They say either you give us 100 percent of what we want or we don’t want it at all.”
Though Abbas has said the Palestinian leadership will continue to recognize Israel and renounce violence, many Hamas officials have so far insisted that the group would never acknowledge the existence of Israel, rebuffing reports that it was considering the shift.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.