Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday said he would not accept a scenario in the Gaza Strip in which Hamas’s armed wing would be able to hold onto its weapons.
Abbas’s comments came several hours after PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Hamas Politburo Chairman Ismail Haniyeh met in Gaza in a bid to start work on ending the decade-long territorial division between the West Bank and Gaza.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007 when it ousted the Fatah-dominated PA.
“Everything needs to be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority,” Abbas told Egypt’s CBC, a popular Arabic television station, in an interview. “I’ll be even more clear—I will not accept reproducing the Hezbollah experience… We are one state, one system, one law and one weapon.”
Hezbollah maintains control of a number of militias in Lebanon, over which the Lebanese state does not have control.
Abbas’s remarks highlighted the sharp difference of opinion between him and Hamas’s leadership on the future of Gaza’s security.
Last week, both Hamas Deputy Chief in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya and Hamas Politburo member Musa Abu Marzouk said that the weapons of Hamas's armed wing are not up for discussion. “No bartering or touching the weapons of the resistance,” Hayya said in an interview with al-Jazeera last Wednesday evening. “We will fight the occupation with all means of resistance until [it] is wiped away.”
Abbas also said that he will not accept members of Fatah, his own party, possessing weapons in the way Hamas’s armed wing does in Gaza.
“If someone from Fatah has a weapon, I’ll put him in prison,” he said.
In past reconciliation attempts, Abbas’s party, Fatah, and Hamas failed to reach an agreement on the issue of Gaza’s security.
The PA president also suggested that Hamas’s recent efforts to advance reconciliation do not relate to a transformation in ideology, but rather financial considerations.
Over the past five months, Abbas has slashed budgets allocated to Gaza
for for electricity, medical services, employees’ salaries and other purposes to pressure Hamas to give up control of the territory.
“We halted our budget. We pay $1.5 billion annually to them [Hamas]. We decided not to pay… So they [Hamas] said the best thing is to return to unity,” he said. He added that he would be prepared to restore the various budgets once Hamas enables the PA government to exercise its authority over the Strip.
When the interviewer asked what he means by Hamas “enabling the [PA] government” in Gaza, he responded that the PA has to take responsibility for Gaza “in the same way as it has in the West Bank.”
The PA dominates the areas of the West Bank under Palestinian control.
Abbas also said that if Hamas wants to be admitted to the PLO, it would have to abide by its policies. The PLO is the overarching Palestinian body recognized by Israel and the international community as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
“When they want to join the PLO, they have to reconcile with and commit to the PLO’s policies,” Abbas said.
In previous reconciliation attempts, Hamas said it would like to join the organization, but refused to back its policies, which include recognition of the State of Israel.
At the end of the interview, Abbas said that while he wishes for an independent Palestinian state, he believes it will not be established in the near future.
“I am optimistic that the time will come in which we get an independent Palestinian state, but not any time soon,” he said. “We don’t deceive each other or sell illusions to anyone. The issue is difficult. We are standing in front of a difficult and narrow-minded rightwing government that rejects peace, the existence of the Palestinian people, and a Palestinian state.”
Abbas stated further that while Israel is in control, he plans to continue to move forward incrementally in building a Palestinian state.
“We are building the Palestinian state… brick by brick,” he said. “I mean when we received Interpol the other day, we placed a brick. When we received UNESCO, we placed a brick.”
The Palestinians were accepted as a member of Interpol last week and UNESCO in 2011.
In a second interview with Egypt’s ONTV, Abbas indicated that if Hamas were to win future elections, he would not oppose Hamas running a future Palestinian government. “If Hamas wins legislative and presidential elections, I would wish them congratulations,” he said.
Abbas said that he did exactly that in 2006 when Hamas won legislative elections.
After Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinain parliament in 2006, one of its leaders Ismail Haniyeh formed a government. Nonetheless, after Hamas forcibly took control of Gaza in 2007, Abbas dissolved Haniyeh’s government.
The PA president also said he was informed that the US “has no opposition to what is happening” regarding Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.
He said that he thanked US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the UN in September for his efforts on Palestinian reconciliation, who he said responded: “You’re welcome.”
US Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt said on Monday that while the Trump administration supports efforts to restore the PA’s control over Gaza, any Palestinian government must commit to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and previously signed agreements.
Hamas has never officially backed any of the positions Greenblatt said any Palestinian government must support.