Calling for ‘Palestinian unity,’ PA premier urges Hamas to attend Moscow meet

Shtayyeh says world needs to ‘stop focusing on October 7,’ as Russia invites Palestinian factions to discuss coming together under banner of ‘popular resistance’

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh speaks during a townhall meeting at the 60th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 18, 2024. (THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)
PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh speaks during a townhall meeting at the 60th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 18, 2024. (THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)

The Palestinian Authority is still seeking unity with Hamas and may hold talks with the terror group in Moscow on February 26, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Sunday, adding that the world needs to stop “focusing” on the October 7 massacre.

“Russia has invited all Palestinian factions who will be meeting on the twenty-sixth of this month in Moscow. We will see if Hamas is ready to come to the ground with us,” Shtayyeh told the Munich Security Conference.

“We are ready to engage. If Hamas is not then that’s a different story. We need Palestinian unity,” he said, adding that to be part of that unity Hamas needed to meet certain prerequisites.

“In order for Hamas to be a member of the PLO there has to be prerequisites that Hamas has to accept — the political platform of the PLO, an understanding on the issue of resistance and we are calling for popular resistance and nothing else,” he said.

Asked about making common cause with a group that perpetrated murders, rapes and kidnappings on October 7, mostly against Israeli civilians, Shtayyeh said, “One should not continue focusing on October 7.”

War erupted with the group’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, killed by Hamas terrorists who rampaged across southern Israel, amid horrific acts of brutality and sexual assault. Another 253 people, also largely civilians, were abducted and taken into Gaza, where 130 remain.

Hamas has always welcomed Russian reconciliation efforts. Its leaders have repeatedly visited Moscow, which maintains good relations with the terror group.

From left to right: Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Putin’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov, and Hamas head of international relations Mousa Abu Marzouk, during a trilateral meeting in Moscow on October 26, 2023. (Hamas Telegram channel)

Hamas and the PA have failed to end their power disputes since 2007. Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group demand to join the PLO but say it should be reformed as the two factions reject recognizing Israel or abiding by the PLO commitment towards the signed peace accords.

Shtayyeh avoided questions about the PA making reforms sought by the West, despite announcing a comprehensive reform program in late January.

“It’s not about reform, it’s not about anything,” he said. “It’s about Palestinians wanting an end to occupation.”

The reform package, which includes the appointment of new regional governors, changes in how security forces are recruited, liberalization of the media market and a restructuring of the health sector, came with a call to hold general elections and open them to all factions.

Since the outbreak of the war, various PA officials have called for integrating the political wing of Hamas into a future Palestinian government, claiming that it is an essential component of Palestinian society.

Elections are seen by many in the international community as a key stage in the reform and revival of the PA, a body perceived as corrupt and ineffectual, in order to boost its legitimacy and potentially enable it to take control over the Gaza Strip after the war.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during their meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah, February 7, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

A wartime opinion poll in December found 88 percent of Palestinians saying Abbas must resign. At the same time, 44% in the West Bank said they support Hamas, up from just 12% in September. In Gaza, the terror group enjoys 42% support, up from 38% three months ago.

“Palestine is ready. We have the institutions, capabilities, but our serious problem is we are under occupation,” Shtayyeh said. “We are under Israeli occupation and we need it to end.”

Last week, Abbas called on Hamas to make haste in agreeing to a deal with Israel in order to save the Gaza Strip from Israel’s military offensive, launched on October 7 with the aim of eradicating the terror group and returning all the hostages.

“We call on the Hamas movement to quickly complete a prisoner deal, to spare our Palestinian people from the calamity of another catastrophic event with dire consequences, no less dangerous than the Nakba of 1948,” Abbas said in a statement carried by the official Palestinian outlet Wafa.

The Nakba, or “catastrophe,” is an Arabic term referring to the displacement of Arabs during the establishment of the State of Israel and the War of Independence.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and three were rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists shake hands after handing over hostages to the Red Cross in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 28, 2023. (AFP)

Mediators have been working for weeks on a deal that would see the remaining hostages released by Hamas in stages in exchange for a truce. Hamas, however, has refused to agree to any deal that does not guarantee the end of the war, while Israel says ending the war before Hamas is defeated is a non-starter.

The Palestinian Authority leader’s remarks last week were praised by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who said that not enough members of the international community have been directing their calls at Hamas and were exclusively placing the burden on Israel.

“Hamas has to account for itself as well. Hamas is hiding amongst civilians… in ways that also put them at risk, and so some of the international community’s questions and pressure should be on Hamas,” Sullivan said during a White House press briefing.

Gianluca Pacchiani contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: