Abbas Aide Says Hamas Doesn't Have to Recognize Israel

By Staff | May 4, 2011 | 5:45 AM EDT

Jerusalem (AP) - International mediators should drop their demand that the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers recognize Israel, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday, just hours before his Western-backed government was to sign a reconciliation deal with Hamas.

The accord, to be inked in Cairo, would end a four-year rift between the bitter rivals and pave the way for a joint caretaker government ahead of national elections next year.

Israel has denounced the plan for Abbas' Fatah movement to join forces with Hamas because of the militant group's long history of deadly attacks against Israeli targets, and has equated the deal with a renunciation of peacemaking.

Like the United States and the European Union, Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization and says it will not negotiate with a future Palestinian government that includes the Iranian-backed group.

It's not clear whether Western powers would deal with the new government that is to emerge from the unity deal. They've said they are waiting to see its composition.

The Quartet of Mideast mediators -- the U.S., the E.U., United Nations and Russia -- has long demanded that Hamas renounce violence and recognize the principle of Israel's right to exist.

But Abbas aide Nabil Shaath told Israel Radio ahead of Wednesday's signing that these demands "are unfair, unworkable and do not make sense."

The only thing the Quartet needs to know, he said, is that Hamas "would refrain from any violence ... and be interested in the peace process."

Hamas and other Palestinian militant factions in Gaza have agreed to abide by an unofficial truce with Israel, largely in place since Israel's January 2009 war in the territory. But it is unclear how long that truce will last, and Hamas has consistently rejected negotiations with Israel.

The reconciliation deal is designed to unify the dueling Palestinian governments that emerged after Hamas violently wrested control of Gaza from security forces loyal to Abbas in June 2007, leaving his Fatah controlling only the West Bank.

The deal doesn't resolve many key issues, such as control of security forces, and many expect it to quickly crumble.

Gaza's deputy foreign minister, Ghazi Hamad of Hamas, told Israel Radio that the accord is meant "to put our internal Palestinian house in order."

"We want to do somethign new, we don't want to waste our time with negotiations all the time," Hamad said.