Lapid: Like the PLO Hamas Could Drop Terror, Recognize Israel

'It's not like it didn't happen before,' Lapid tells the Wall Street Journal. 'The PLO used to be a terror organization.'

Yair Lapid
Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Ilan Assayag

Hamas could follow the Palestine Liberation Organization and eventually renounce terror and recognize Israel, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Friday.

"It's not like it didn't happen before," Lapid told the newspaper. "The PLO used to be a terror organization."

He added, however, that he is currently opposed to any talks involving Hamas, which he considers a terrorist group.

Lapid recalled a phrase used by former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during his talks with the Palestinians: "We negotiate for peace as if there is no terror, and fight terror as if there is no peace."

The Journal took Lapid's words as indication that "some in the Israeli government [are] saying for the first time that they see signs of moderation among the Islamists, and that negotiations with Hamas could one day become possible if it recognizes Israel."

It contrasted Lapid's approach to that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, it said "considers Hamas a terrorist group [and] reacted to the deal by suspending talks with the Palestinians and cutting off the $100 million of monthly tax revenue it collects on the Palestinian Authority's behalf."

The United States has also given up, for now, on its latest push for a peace deal, the newspaper wrote.

For its part, the journal continued, "Hamas has agreed to allow technocrats to run the new government, which will recognize Israel, as the PLO does. While Hamas hasn't renounced violence against Israel, it has maintained a cease-fire since 2012."

Also interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, prominent Hamas politician Hassan Yusef said that the reconciliation agreement with Fatah could be a chance for Hamas to join the establishment after years on the fringes. But he made no promises about recognizing Israel and said any change within Hamas would come slowly and on its own terms. "This will not happen by force from the U.S. or Israel," he said.

Lapid told Israel Radio last week that his Yesh Atid party "would have what to talk about" with Hamas if the Gaza Strip's rulers were to recognize Israel, renounce terror and accept past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. However, Lapid said he saw no evidence that Hamas was so disposed.

The conditions Lapid mentioned are those set down by the Mideast Quartet (United States. United Nations, European Union and Russia) for Hamas to become a partner to peace negotiations.

"If Hamas accepts these conditions," said Lapid, "it won't be Hamas anymore, and we will have what to talk about, but so far I don't see this process taking place."