Top Palestinian negotiator: Hamas is not a terror group

In Arabic interview, Saeb Erekat also says Gaza-based Islamists need not recognize Israel since Israeli leaders don’t recognize Palestine

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90/File)

Hamas is not a terror organization and never will be, the chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel told Sky News in Arabic on Friday.

Erekat made the comments after Israel suspended peace talks on Thursday in light of this week’s signing of a unity agreement between the two rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas. The Israeli government said it would not negotiate with a Palestinian leadership that included a Hamas component, since “Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel.”

Erekat, in his Friday interview, countered that “Hamas is not and will never be a terrorist organization to us.”

Erekat added in the Sky News Arabic interview that Hamas is not required to recognize Israel, since there are parties in Israel which don’t recognize the state of Palestine.

“Has [Israel’s Prime Minister] Netanyahu asked the Jewish Home party [an Orthodox-nationalist coalition partner] to recognize the state of Palestine?” Erekat asked. “Has Netanyahu himself recognized the state of Palestine? [Yair] Lapid [head of the centrist Yesh Atid coalition party] has not recognized the state of Palestine,” he said. Thus “Hamas is not required to recognize Israel.”

Erekat said that the PLO was responsible for negotiations with Israel. “Israel needs to understand that authority over negotiations belongs to the PLO, and all Palestinian governments so far, including the one of Ismail Haniyeh [Gaza’s Hamas prime minister], have agreed that the authority over negotiations belongs to the PLO and to the government.”

Were the PLO to reach an agreement with Israel, Erekat said, it would be submitted to a referendum.

Abbas is said to have made assurances since the announcement Wednesday of the reconciliation deal — by which the sides are to form a unity government within five weeks with subsequent elections — that the new Palestinian government will recognize Israel. This despite Hamas’s consistent rejection of recognition, and its designation by Israel and much of the West as a terrorist organization.

Abbas told a UN peace envoy Thursday night that the unity agreement will be founded on the PLO’s commitments, including recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and acceptance of previous agreements.

In a conversation with Robert Serry in Ramallah, Abbas said that the agreement would be implemented under the PA president’s leadership “and on the basis of the PLO commitments,” Serry’s office said in a statement. “President Abbas emphasized that these commitments include recognition of Israel, nonviolence, and adherence to previous agreements. President Abbas also reiterated his continued commitment to peace negotiations and to nonviolent popular protests,” the statement said.

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