Abu Mazen: Like it or not, Hamas is part of Palestinian people.
Ramallah – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared today that the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas shouldn’t stand in the way of future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In a meeting with representatives of “Israel Initiatives,” a group of businessmen and veteran security officials who advocate a solution based on the Arab League Peace Initiative, Abbas said, “I am ready to talk. If Prime Minister Netanyahu calls me tomorrow, I will talk to him.” The reason for the breakdown of negotiations, Abbas said, is Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement activity and to discuss the future borders of the Palestinian state.
“I have met Netanyahu in Washington and in Jerusalem, and it led to nothing,” Abbas said. “All he wants to talk about is security. I understand the Israeli concern, but I won’t have Israeli forces in the Palestinian state. Netanyahu wanted an Israeli army in the West Bank for another forty years. That means the occupation continues.”
Abbas declared that he will not chose between Hamas and the peace process, as Netanyahu demands. “Hamas is a part of the Palestinian people, whether one likes them or not. They are a part of our people. You, Mr. Netanyahu, are our partner. We don’t need to choose. It’s you, Netanyahu, that needs to make a choice between peace and settlements.”
Regarding declarations from Hamas leaders rejecting the diplomatic process, Abbas said that the united Hamas-Fatah goverment will deal only with the rebuilding of Gaza and the preparation of new elections, due to take place no later than a year from now. “The PLO will continue to lead the political process. It is our duty.”
Abbas refused to say if Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will continue to lead the Palestinian government, claiming that details of the reconciliation agreement haven’t been finalized. Yet rumors among the journalists in Ramallah were that the agreement has taken Fayyad by surprise, and that he only learned of it a short time before the deal was made public.
The reputation of the Prime Minister might pose the first challenge for the Palestinian president, since Fayyad is identified with the diplomatic and financial support the Palestinians have achieved in recent years.
Among other Palestinian officials present were former head of security Jabril Rajoub, who was rarely seen together with Abu Mazen in recent years, and former chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who added his own comment to questions from the Israeli media regarding the reconciliation agreement. “This is about peace, but also about democracy,” he said. “We respect the democratic choices of the Israeli people. We ask Israel to respect ours.”
Among those present on the Israeli side were former head of Mossad, Danny Yatom, former Labor Minister Moshe Shahal, business tycoon Idan Ofer and Adina Bar Shalom, the daughter of Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
“I’m glad I came to Ramallah today,” said Bar Shalom. “I feel that we have a partner.”