Daniella Cheslow Multimedia Journalist

Daniella Cheslow
Abbas: Peace is possible with Hamas, Israel

As fighting Palestinian factions try to reconcile, West Bank leader makes case to Israel and the West.

Published in The Times of London.

Mahmoud Abbas insisted today that peace was possible with Israel as well as Hamas.

Responding to the pronouncement by Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, that the Palestinian Authority must choose between making peace with Israel and peace with the militant group, Mr Abbas said: “We choose both.”

Speaking at a meeting in Ramallah with representatives of an Israeli peace initiative, the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA) said: “Netanyahu is the one who must choose between peace and settlements.”

Ahmed Yousef, a former senior advisor to Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Prime Minister, confirmed that Hamas will not oppose negotiations with Israel. However, Hamas will insist on ratifying any peace agreement by referendum or in the Palestinian parliament.

The Egyptian-brokered reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas envisions an interim government followed by a general election within a year. Press reports have speculated that Salam Fayyad, the PA Prime Minister, will be forced to step down.

“Hamas doesn’t like Salam Fayyad,” said Sameeh Hammoudeh, a political scientist at the West Bank Birzeit University. “They consider him as an American employee, and that he is working for the benefit of Americans and Israelis and not the Palestinian people.”

In Ramallah, Palestinian leaders were optimistic about the reconciliation.

“It’s good news for all Palestinians,” said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian Authority spokesman. “This split has been costly in all levels – on the political level, on the humanitarian level and on the economic level.”

But the Israeli political leadership saw the reconciliation as a threat. President Peres worried that the agreement does not change the Hamas charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction.

The Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, warned that “hundreds of terrorists from Hamas will go free throughout Judea and Samaria,” invoking the biblical name for the West Bank.

Reconciliation also carries risks of pushing away the Palestinian Authority’s Western backers. Already, some American lawmakers have suggested cutting aid to the Palestinian Authority should it include members of Hamas, which the US regards as a terrorist organisation. A spokesman for the European Union said the EU will “study the details” of the reconciliation agreement before making a judgment.

Mr Hammoudeh foresees a fundamental shift away from US funding and toward support from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“What’s going on is against the will of the Americans,” he said.

Mr Yousef, in Gaza, doubted that Western governments would pull funding if it would cause the PA to unravel. He saw the reconciliation as a direct outcome of the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, along with Palestinian demonstrations in favor of mending ties and frustration with both the Israelis and the Americans at the negotiating table.

“The political landscape in the whole region is changing,” he said.

“This is an internal issue, and nobody should intervene with that,” he added. “This is how we are going to fix our home.”

Photo by Rex Features and published in thetimes.co.uk.