RAMALLAH: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signaled on Saturday that he remains committed to troubled U.S.-backed peace talks, saying that any unity government agreed with the militant group Hamas would recognize Israel.
Abbas's comments appeared aimed at soothing U.S. concerns about the unity deal he reached on Wednesday with Hamas, an Islamist faction sworn to Israel's destruction and designated by the West as a terrorist organization.
Israel suspended peace negotiations with Abbas after the reconciliation pact, and the United States said it would reconsider annual aid to the Palestinians worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
"The government would be under my command and my policy," Abbas told senior leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) at his presidential headquarters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
"Its purview will be what happens domestically. I recognize Israel and it would recognize Israel. I reject violence and terrorism," he said.
The deal between Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party envisions agreement on a government of independent technocrats within five weeks and elections at least six months later.
Hamas's opposition to Israel does not necessarily contradict Abbas's position, as both sides have agreed that the unity government will not include Hamas members but be comprised of technocrats.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out talks with such a government.
"That's the oldest trick in the book. It's called the front office-back office gambit," he said, in which "shady organizations" put forward "smooth-talking frontmen – the men in suits," Netanyahu said in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday,
"We will not sit and negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas in which Hamas has effective share of power," Netanyahu said.
Hamas on Saturday said it would not change its stance on Israel. "The recognition of Israel by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is not new. What is important is that Hamas did not and will never recognize Israel," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.
Abbas seeks a Palestinian state in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in a 1967 war.
Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from Abbas's secular Fatah in a brief 2007 civil war, retains thousands of fighters and an arsenal of rockets. It has fought repeated battles with Israel since it took control of the enclave.
A senior U.S. official said on Thursday that a unity government formed with Hamas could call into question some $500 million in their annual security and budget aid to Abbas.
A future Palestinian government must "unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties," the official told media. – Reuters