GAZA, (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas will ask Hamas on Tuesday to form a new Palestinian government and to pursue his peace agenda, but the Islamist militant group said talks with the Jewish state would be a waste of time.
Facing a looming financial crisis after Israel halted monthly tax payments to an already cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s top political leader, Khaled Meshaal, said Iran would play an increasing role in Palestinian affairs.
U.S. and Israeli officials have expressed concern over Iran’s influence. They see Iran as a threat to world security, making it even more unlikely that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks could resume under a Hamas-led government underpinned by financial support from Tehran.
Speaking in Tehran ahead of one-on-one talks in Gaza between Abbas and Hamas’s prime minister-designate, Ismail Haniyeh, Meshaal said: “Talking to Israel is a waste of time as long as there is no talk about withdrawing from Palestine.”
Israel has likewise refused to talk to Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
In a “political analysis” posted on its website, Hamas said an economic siege by the West could result in the Palestinian Authority’s collapse.
But the analysis cautioned that doing so would lead to a surge in violence against Israel, an outcome Israel and the Western powers would find “undesirable”.
The United States and the European Union have threatened to freeze all but humanitarian aid if a Hamas-led government refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel, prompting the militant group to appeal for support from Iran and others.
“With respect to the challenges that we have ahead of us, Iran’s role in the future of Palestine should continue and increase,” Meshaal said. In the past, Iran has made donations to Hamas and other militant groups.
One day after militant factions held talks on joining a coalition government, Israel warned Hamas against following through on a promise to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to release PFLP fighters from Palestinian prisons once it takes power.
A senior Israeli official said Israel would take steps to apprehend the men if they were freed.
Abbas will meet with Haniyeh at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) to present him with a formal letter authorising him to form a government, aides said.
Abbas was also expected to spell out guidelines for a future Hamas administration, including a commitment from the militant group to abide by past interim peace accords with Israel, an aide to the president said.
Some Palestinian political analysts have predicted a constitutional crisis if Hamas continues to reject Abbas’s peace agenda. Hamas has given no ground, but both sides so far appear eager to avoid a confrontation.
Hamas crushed Abbas’s long-dominant Fatah faction in a Jan. 25 election on a platform of rooting out corruption in the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000 but has largely abided by a ceasefire Abbas forged with Israeli leaders a year ago.
Once Abbas gives the nod to Haniyeh, a Hamas leader viewed by many Palestinians as a pragmatist, the 43-year-old Gazan will have up to five weeks to form an administration.
In a bid to isolate Hamas, Israel on Sunday halted the transfer of tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority.
The United States, Israel’s biggest ally, also asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million of its own aid to ensure it does not reach Hamas.
Hamas brushed aside the financial pressure.
“If the West does not provide economic aid to Palestine, it can get the support from the Arab and Islamic countries,” Meshaal said.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on Islamic countries to give the Hamas-led Palestinian government financial support.
Russia also said on Monday it was “ready in principle” to offer emergency aid to the Palestinians.
The Palestinians receive about $1 billion a year from donors and the Palestinian Authority requires at least $100 million a month.