Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not appoint Hamas officials to a potential Palestinian unity government, if they did not recognize the State of Israel, according to former members of Knesset who met with the Palestinian leader on Sunday.
Some 12 former lawmakers, who belong to the Peace Parliament Forum, traveled to the Mukata, the PA president’s headquarters in Ramallah, to meet with Abbas. The lawmakers included former Labor party chairman Amram Mitzna, ex-Labor legislator Colette Avital, former Minister of Internal Affairs Ophir Pines-Paz and other past parliamentarians and ministers.
The PA president’s comments on a potential unity government came after his party, Fatah, and Hamas signed an Egyptian-brokered deal to advance reconciliation efforts and restore the PA’s rule in the Gaza Strip.
While Fatah and Hamas have not agreed to form a unity government, upcoming talks between Hamas, Fatah and smaller Palestinian factions in Cairo in late November are slated to deal with the topic.
“He said he would like a future unity government to be composed of various Palestinian factions including Hamas,” former Avital told The Jerusalem Post. “But he said that any minister in such a government, including those who belong to Hamas, would have to publicly recognize Israel.”
The Israeli daily Haaretz first reported Abbas’s remark on a future unity government.
Hamas has repeatedly refused to recognize Israel and a number of its officials recently said such a move was no longer being considered.
“The time in which Hamas discusses the issue of recognizing Israel has ended,” Hamas Chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar told a group of Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip in early October, Palestinian and Lebanese media reported. “The discussion now is about when to erase Israel.”
Pines-Paz added that Abbas said US President Donald Trump recently told him “he favors a two-state solution.”
According to the former minister, Abbas said Trump made the comments about two-states when he and the American president met in New York City on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
A White House official, however, disputed Abbas’s statement, suggesting the PA president was projecting his position onto the Trump administration rather than accurately recounting the meeting.
“As expected, President Abbas and his delegation brought up their preference for a two-state solution,” the official told The Post on Monday. “While we said we understand their goals, we reiterated our position which has not changed – we will help facilitate but not impose an enduring peace agreement and will help work towards whatever both sides agree to.”
The official added that “no timeline has been set” by the Trump administration for the peace process.
Avital also said that Abbas reiterated that he would not accept a scenario, in which the PA takes responsibility for Gaza and Palestinian militias including Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzeldin Kassam Brigades, are permitted to hold onto their weapons.
“He said that there needs to be one government, one country, and one gun,” Avital stated. “He said under no circumstances would he accept the presence of militias in Gaza.”
Hamas officials have said they will not give up their weapons regardless of developments in the reconciliation process.
“We absolutely will not give up on the rights of the Palestinian people and resistance. Any understanding or reconciliation will not affect the resistance weapons and their program,” said Hamas deputy chairman Saleh al-Arouri during a visit to Tehran in mid-October.
Mitzna, who has previously met with Abbas, said he thought the PA president did “not appear optimistic.”
“Abu Mazen said that he thinks Israel takes him and all the work the PA does for granted,” Mitzna said in a phone call. “He said if there is no future for reaching a final settlement, he would hand over responsibility for the [Palestinian] territories to Israel.”
Abbas said during peace talks in 2011 and 2014 that if they fail to lead to a Palestinian state, he would dissolve the PA and return responsibility for the Palestinian territories’ administration to Israel. However, following the collapse of peace talks in both 2011 and 2014, Abbas made no such move.
Mitzna also said that Abbas said the security situation in the West Bank is “good” because of the PA security forces.
“He said that the PA security forces are responsible for the good security situation in Judea and Samaria,” Mitzna said. “He said they are doing a lot to prevent terror against Israelis.”
Since Abbas became PA president in 2005, the PA security forces have reportedly foiled hundreds of attacks, which were meant to target Israelis.
The Peace Parliament Forum’s meeting with Abbas on Sunday was its second meeting with the PA president in the past year.
Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.