RAMALLAH, Palestine: Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday the new unity government he is set to head with Hamas backing would reject violence and recognize Israel and existing agreements.
Abbas was speaking to members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council, which had convened to chart a course of action after Israel suspended U.S.-brokered peace talks in response to the deal with Hamas.
Israel said it would not negotiate with a government backed by Hamas, the armed Islamist movement ruling Gaza, which is pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state and has always rejected peace talks.
“The upcoming government will obey my policy,” Abbas told members of his PLO on Saturday. “I recognize Israel and reject violence and terrorism, and recognize international commitments.”
Abbas stressed that negotiations with Israel would not be held by the new government but rather by the PLO, which “represents the entire Palestinian people.”
The PLO is the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinians and their interlocutor in peace talks, while the Palestinian Authority was created as part of the Oslo peace process of the 1990s to administer the occupied Palestinian territories.
Abbas heads both, as well as the secular Fatah party, which dominates the PLO.
Under the Wednesday agreement signed in Gaza between Hamas and the PLO, Abbas would head an “independent government” of technocrats, to be formed within five weeks.
The new interim Palestinian administration would be charged with holding parliamentary and presidential elections within six months of taking office.
Israel and Western nations view Hamas as a terrorist organization, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas must choose between reconciling with the Islamist group and negotiating peace with the Jewish state.
No ‘Jewish state’ recognition
Abbas also reiterated that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as the “Jewish state,” saying they recognized it as a state in 1993 and shouldn’t have to accept its religious identity, which has been a central demand made by Netanyahu.
The Palestinian leader pointed out that no similar demand was made of Egypt or Jordan when they signed peace treaties recognizing Israel.
The dispute over recognition and Israel’s continuing construction of settlements in the occupied territories presented major obstacles to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s dogged efforts to coax the two sides towards a historic peace agreement.
Israel and the United States had been hoping to extend the faltering peace talks launched last July 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 as Abbas listed conditions for extending the talks beyond the deadline.
Abbas on Saturday reiterated that he would agree to an extension if Israel freezes settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, frees the prisoners and begins discussions on the future borders of a promised Palestinian state.
Israel last week dismissed the same conditions.
On Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. 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 said that Abbas had insisted any new government would adhere to his non-violence policies, calling the assurances a “positive thing.”
The PLO meeting adjourned after Abbas’s Saturday speech until later in the evening.
Earlier on Saturday, Netanyahu spokesman Ofir Gendelman wrote on Twitter that “Abbas forged a pact w/ a global terrorist organization,” noting Hamas was on the “terror lists” of various states, including the United States and Egypt.