In the wake of Wednesday's surprising announcement that the Palestinian Authority's Fatah movement and its rival Hamas reached a reconciliation and unification agreement, Hamas has reiterated its longstanding position that it remains a sworn enemy of Israel, according to a Palestinian Media Watch bulletin.
"No recognition [of Israel] and no negotiations," said Hamas leader Mahmoud Azhar regarding his group's political platform. Azhar added that he is confident that Hamas' issues with Fatah regarding the peace process with Israel will not interfere with the functioning of the new Palestinian unity government since the purpose of this government is to address internal Palestinian issues.
In response to the agreement announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, "The Palestinian Authority has to choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. Peace is impossible with both of them. Hamas is trying to destroy Israel, and sends missiles on our cities and our children."
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated that peace talks with Israel would still be possible. He clarified that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which he leads and which Hamas is not a part of, will be responsible for "handling politics, negotiations."
Nevertheless, senior Fatah official Tawfiq Tirawi emphasized that peace with Israel is not the group's top priority. Rather, it is focused on presenting a unified Palestinian front for the United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood in September. "If Israel thinks we have to choose between peace with it and peace with Hamas – any Palestinian you ask will tell you we prefer Palestinian unity over peace with Israel," he said.
The U.S. cautiously backed the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, releasing a short statement in which it lent support to the union - provided the new Palestinian government worked for peace. "The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.
According to Tirawi, Hamas' status in the international community as a terrorist organization was never considered when negotiating the reconciliation agreement. "No Palestinian group is a terror organization in our eyes," he said.