GAZA, (Reuters) – Hamas said on Friday it would not join any Palestinian unity government that recognised Israel, rebuffing President Mahmoud Abbas who told the United Nations any future coalition would do so and also renounce violence.
The blow to Abbas came after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, seeking to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said she planned to visit the Middle East soon.
Speaking at the 192-nation General Assembly in New York on Thursday, Abbas said “any future Palestinian government” would honour all previous interim peace accords with Israel. But Ahmed Youssef, political adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the ruling Islamist militant movement, told Reuters that an agreement between Hamas and Abbas to form a unity coalition did not include recognition of Israel.
“I rule that out. The political thinking of Hamas prevents the idea that Hamas can be part of a government which puts the recognition of Israel on its political agenda,” Youssef said.
A deal on a unity government was reached on Sept. 11 and Palestinians hope it will lead to a lifting of Western sanctions imposed on Hamas when it took office in March.
Talks on the coalition’s formation have faltered since and Abbas, whose Fatah party was defeated by Hamas in January elections, has accused Hamas of reneging on the deal.
“Any future government will commit to imposing security and order, to ending the phenomena of multiple militias, indiscipline and chaos, and to the rule of law,” Abbas said.
Youssef reiterated Hamas’s position that a unity government would honour agreements made with Israel as long as they are in the “interests of the Palestinian people”, a phrase that allows Hamas to pick and choose its obligations.
Those agreements include the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat expressed surprise at Youssef’s comments, saying Hamas signed the deal on forming the unity government, knowing it meant honouring past peace deals.
Abbas’s office in Ramallah said the president would return to the Palestinian territories at the weekend after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo later on Friday.
Speaking after a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss the Middle East on Thursday, Rice said she would seek out moderate Arab leaders on her trip and try to help both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict resolve their differences.
“I expect to go to the region fairly soon,” said Rice, without giving details.
Rice said she would try to “accelerate progress” on the U.S.-led “road map” for Middle East peace.
The road map lays out steps for a two-state solution in which Israel and a Palestinian state would live side by side.
A senior State Department official, who asked not to be named, said he did not expect Rice to engage in the high-speed shuttle diplomacy of some previous administrations. He said overall strategy was still being worked out.
Arab leaders and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the war in Lebanon showed the danger of leaving the core Middle East dispute unresolved.
Israel argued there were enough forums outside the council dealing with the issue. The United States agreed and prevented the council from issuing a closing statement, diplomats said.
“Like no other conflict, the Arab-Israeli conflict carries a powerful symbolic and emotional charge for people throughout the world,” Annan said.