GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Friday he will not head a government that recognizes Israel, striking a potential blow to President Mahmoud Abbas' attempts to create a national unity government.
Haniyeh spoke a day after Abbas indicated at the United Nations that a coalition government of Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement would recognize the Jewish state.
"I personally will not head any government that recognizes Israel," Haniyeh said in a mosque sermon in Gaza City, laying out his group's position in coalition talks with Abbas.
However, Haniyeh said Hamas is ready to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War — and to honor a long-term truce with Israel.
"We support establishing a Palestinian state in the land of 1967 at this stage, but in return for a cease-fire, not recognition," Haniyeh said.
Abbas was still in New York and couldn't be immediately reached for comment on Haniyeh's remarks. A close adviser, Nabil Amr, clarified that the Palestinian president would not ask Hamas to explicitly recognize Israel, but to abide by Palestine Liberation Organization agreements that recognize the Jewish state.
"We expect Hamas to agree to this," Amr said.
Hamas, which swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January, currently rules alone. But Abbas, elected separately last year, has been toiling for months to broaden the government in the hope of easing crushing international sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led government to force it to soften its violent anti-Israel ideology.
Last week, the two sides announced they would govern together, and strive to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel — an objective that implies recognition of the Jewish state.
But coalition talks have faltered because the West and Israel have balked at restoring hundreds of millions of dollars in funding until Hamas clearly states its willingness to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin reiterated Israel's demand that any Palestinian government yield to the demands the international community has imposed.
Abbas told a U.N. forum Thursday that the national unity government would commit to all past agreements between the Palestinians and Israel, including letters exchanged by the two sides in 1993 that call for mutual recognition and the renunciation of violence.
Officials from both Fatah and Hamas said privately that it wasn't clear whether Abbas' speech was meant to solicit international support for the planned government, or a new condition to forming a coalition with Hamas.
In deciding to form a coalition with Fatah, Hamas had agreed to "respect" past agreements, but didn't commit to them, calling into question Abbas' ability to maneuver in any future peacemaking. Hamas is afraid that committing to past agreements would be tantamount to recognizing Israel, which it is sworn to destroy.
Earlier Friday, Haniyeh's political adviser, Ahmed Yousef, said instead of recognizing Israel, Hamas was prepared to agree to a "long-term truce for five or 10 years, until the occupation withdraws."
In the past, Hamas has offered a long-term truce in exchange for an Israeli commitment to withdraw from all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel rejects that demand.
Yousef said renouncing violence was a clause of the agreement underlying the planned coalition government. He was unclear on what Hamas would do if coalition talks break down.
A spokesman for the Hamas-led government, Ghazi Hamad, said the group would ask Abbas to clarify his remarks after he returns from his trip.