CAIRO, Egypt – Hamas' exiled political chief warned Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday not to make leadership changes without consulting the militant group, taking a hardened stance ahead of negotiations to form a new government.
Khaled Mashaal's strong warning may have been in response to Palestinian press reports that Abbas planned to appoint his current interior minister, Nasser Youssef, as deputy commander of Palestinian security forces. That would enable the Palestinian leader to keep control over the forces.
"This is a message to Abu Mazen and other brothers in the authority to stop issuing decrees and decisions (before consulting with us) ... as if to throw them in our face," Mashaal told a Cairo press conference. "We will not deal with them as legitimate ... no one can deceive us."
Hamas also was upset when Palestinian Parliament speaker Rauhi Fattouh appointed Fatah activist Ibrahim Khreisheh as director general of the legislative council after the militant group won a big parliamentary majority in Jan. 25 elections.
Mashaal, speaking after meetings of Hamas' leadership in the Egyptian capital, said the militant group had not yet decided on a candidate for prime minister.
But another top leader said Hamas had settled on Jamal al-Khudairi, a businessman who ran in the parliamentary elections as an independent with Hamas' backing. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Hamas had not yet made its proposal to Abbas.
Al-Khudairi, a well-known Hamas sympathizer, has never addressed violence or recognition of Israel, focusing most of his campaign speeches on domestic issues like matters like education and job training. He has also talked about the need for internal Palestinian reform.
Mashaal said "al-Khudairi is a respected Palestinian personality," though he said Hamas had made no decision.
He also reiterated that Hamas would not recognize Israel, shrugging off growing international pressure to do so as a condition for receiving millions of dollars in foreign aid — essential for the lifeline of the Palestinian economy. Western powers have said they will not fund a Hamas-led Palestinian government unless the militant group renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist.
"Hamas will not recognize Israel," Mashaal said. "We will not give legitimacy to occupation."
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. earlier, Mashaal said a long-term cease-fire with Israel would be possible if the Jewish state withdrew to its borders before the 1967 Middle East war. He said Hamas would not renounce violence, insisting it is entitled to resist what it regards as Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.
He also said Hamas was capable of leading the Palestinians in a long fight that they could withstand more easily than Israel.
"We will not stand against the resistance, we will not condemn any operation and will never arrest any mujahed (holy warrior)," he said.
"Anyone who things Hamas will change is wrong. Hamas will not change according to what others want. It will make its own changes in shape and tactics but not in essence or the strategy," he vowed.
Hamas, which won a stunning victory in the parliamentary elections, has proposed a national coalition government that would also include Fatah — Abbas' party — plus other Palestinian factions and independent figures.
Abbas has said he would ask Hamas to form the new government and has asked the new parliament to convene Feb. 18.
Exiled Hamas leaders from Syria joined leaders from Gaza in Cairo to discuss the new government. They unanimously agreed on the choice of al-Khudairi for prime minister, the other top Hamas official said.
Al-Khudairi, about 50, owns the biggest mattress factory in the West Bank and Gaza, and holds an engineering degree from an Egyptian university. For 14 years, he has been chairman of the board of the Islamic University in Gaza, an institution mostly controlled by Hamas.
If al-Khudari is not accepted in negotiations with Abbas or turns down the nomination, Hamas will nominate Palestinian trade and economics minister Mazen Sonnoqrot, another independent with Hamas sympathies, the official said.
Hamas leaders also decided they would name one of their own leaders as prime minister if efforts to appoint an independent fail, the official said, adding that Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would be their choice.
A leader of the militant Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, said Wednesday it would not join a Hamas-led government and rejected a long-term truce with Israel.
Hamas has largely observed an informal truce for the past year, while the smaller, more hard-line Islamic Jihad has carried out six suicide attacks against Israelis during that period.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas have similar ideologies, including a call for the destruction of Israel, but are also fierce competitors.
Islamic Jihad, which is believed to be funded, in part, by Iran, boycotted last month's Palestinian parliament election. A Hamas prime minister, however, could have appointed Islamic Jihad members to the Cabinet even if the group was not represented in parliament.
Khaled Batch, a leader of the group, told a news conference in Gaza City that "Islamic Jihad rejects participation in the government and commits itself, before God and our people, to continue resistance as long as the occupation exists on our land."