PA President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Israeli peace group 31.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
RAMALLAH – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday said
negotiations with Israel will remain possible, despite the announcement
Wednesday that Fatah and Hamas agreed to form an interim government following a
meeting held in Cairo.
Abbas said that the PLO would still be in charge
of handling politics and negotiations with Israel, and “will continue our policy
of one authority, one gun and the rule of law as long as I am
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Abbas wouldn’t say whether or not Fatah or Hamas would rule
the West Bank, but stressed that the main priorities for now are rebuilding the
Gaza Strip and planning the upcoming elections.
Speaking to reporters at
the Mukata presidential complex in Ramallah on Thursday, Abbas reiterated his
statement that Israel must choose between peace with the Palestinians and
continued settlement construction.
“I heard that Netanyahu said that Abu
Mazen [Abbas] should choose between Israel and Hamas. I heard this for a few
months and I made the answer that Hamas is part of the Palestinian people. I
can’t exclude them. Like or dislike, agree or disagree, they are part of our
people. You, Mr. Netanyahu, are our partner. We can’t exclude you, so we have to
take both sides – not to choose between this and that. But please, Mr.
Netanyahu, you have to choose between settlement activities and
When asked if the current unity government may bring about a deal
for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, Mazen said, “We have
always shown our sympathy for the situation of Gilad Shalit. We want him
to return to his family, and we know how much his family is
suffering. But please put in mind that we have 8,000 prisoners [in
Israeli jails] whose families are suffering.”
On the issue of prisoners,
Abbas did not say whether the PA would release Hamas prisoners in its jails –
though he did clarify that the PA “has no political prisoners“ in its
Abbas’s statements came during a meeting with representatives of a
private Israeli peace initiative called “The Israeli Initiative,” launched this
month at a press conference in Tel Aviv. The initiative counts among its members
Israeli security services luminaries like former Shin Bet (Israel Security
Agency) chief Yaakov Perry, and one-time Mossad chief Danny Yatom.
initiative seeks a two-state solution based on the Saudi Peace Initiative, which
calls for an end to the conflict in exchange for recognition of Israel’s right
to exist, a withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a compromise on the Palestinian
Perry was the main speaker at the group’s debut press
conference in Tel Aviv, but was abroad on Thursday and could not make the
meeting in Ramallah, organizers said.
Other backers of the initiative,
including former Military Intelligence chief Amnon Lipkin- Shahak and Yuval
Rabin, were also absent.
The meeting was given an unexpected boost by
Wednesday’s announcement of the Fatah-Hamas deal. Indeed, by Thursday afternoon,
the Mukata was jammed with Israeli and foreign press questioning Abbas about the
specifics of the unity agreement – and its ramifications for Israel and the
wider Middle East.
Yatom took the opportunity to speak at the Mukata on
Thursday to say that he believes the Hamas-Fatah unity deal “will promote the
negotiation, and the process, in order to achieve peace.” He added that “we
[Israel and the Palestinians] have a mutual war, and this is to fight against
terrorists and those who try to harm any relations with the Palestinians and the
Yatom said that the recent turmoil in the Middle East should
serve as “a catalyst to all of us to try to resume immediate talks between
Israel and the Palestinians. I don’t think we have the luxury to waste even one
month – much less six months, or a year,” he added.
meeting, Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub dodged questions about
whether an interim government that includes Hamas would recognize the state of
“It’s not the government’s job to recognize the State of Israel,”
Rajoub said. “The PLO recognizes the rights of the State of Israel. You have a
real, trustworthy partner.”
He added that “recognition of the State of
Israel will only come by way of a peace agreement.”
The Hamas charter
calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement by an
When asked about Netanyahu’s statement that Abu Mazen must
choose between peace with Israel and unity with Hamas, Rajoub replied:
“Netanyahu must also choose between Abu Mazen and [far-fight activist] Baruch