We will never recognise Israel’s religious identity: Palestinian president

Hamas salutes positive speech by Palestinian president

RAMALLAH/GAZA CITY Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on Saturday said that Palestinian people will never recognise Israel as the Jewish state, and they should not be forced to go a step further and recognise Israel’s religious identity.

“In 1993, we recognised Israel,” Abbas told members of the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Israel had made recognition of it as a Jewish state a key demand in peace talks, which it withdrew from after PLO on Wednesday signed a reconciliation deal with the Hamas movement.

Abbas pointed out that no similar demand was made of Egypt or Jordan when they signed peace treaties recognising Israel. He stressed that the government would follow his principles of recognising Israel, rejecting violence and recognising international commitments.

The Hamas movement welcomed speech by president Abbas, with which it signed a reconciliation deal this week. “The speech had mostly positive points, and we cannot but support it on topics such as Jerusalem, reconciliation and not recognising (Israel as) the Jewish state, in addition to the failure of (peace) negotiations,” said Bassem Naim, an adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.

Under the agreement, Abbas would head an independent government of technocrats, to be formed within five weeks. That new interim administration would be charged with holding parliamentary and presidential elections within six months of taking office. He also said it would deal only with internal domestic issues and not be involved in negotiations with Israel, which would remain the responsibility of the PLO.

Naim concurred, saying it is not the government's mission to take care of political issues. "It has only three main missions: unifying the Palestinian organisations, preparing for elections and reconstructing Gaza.” Despite being invited, Hamas delegates did not participate in the Saturday meeting. Aziz Dweik, the Hamas speaker of the Palestinian parliament, told AFP the group had stayed away because "we need a central council that is effective, not merely window dressing."

Iran also welcomed Saturday a reconciliation deal between the two main Palestinian factions – the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas – which it said was against the Zionist regime, a reference to Israel. “The Islamic Republic of Iran salutes the reconciliation of the Palestinian groups against the Zionist regime... and against the excessive demands and aggressions of the occupation regime,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham.

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