On Brink of Unity Deal, Palestinian Official Says Hamas Needn't Recognize Israel

Nabil Shaath tells Israel Radio that Quartet preconditions calling on Hamas to recognize Israel are 'unworkable and do not make sense', adding all Quartet must know is Hamas would refrain from violence.

An aide to the Western-backed Palestinian president said on Wednesday that international mediators should drop their demand that Gaza's militant Hamas rulers recognize Israel.

Nabil Shaath spoke just hours before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' West Bank Fatah government is to sign a reconciliation deal with Hamas, ending a four-year rift. An interim unity government is to follow.

Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh

Israel has criticized the reconciliation, calling on Abbas to choose between with Israel or peace with Hamas, who "aspires to destroy Israel."

The Quartet of Mideast mediators - the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia – has called on Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence as a precondition to reaching any peace deal.

Shaath told Israel Radio on Wednesday that those demands are unfair, unworkable and do not make sense.

He says the only thing the Quartet must know is that Hamas would refrain from violence and be interested in the peace process.

Hamas has launched violent attacks against Israel, most recently exchanging heavy cross-border fire over the Gaza Strip last month and condemns all negotiations with Israel.

Representatives from Hamas and Fatah announced in Cairo last week their intention to reconcile, after a four-year-long bitter and at times violent rift, which saw Hamas administering the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under the control of the Fatah dominated Palestinian Authority.

In a symbolic step on Wednesday, Hamas allowed Fatah-controlled Palestine TV to broadcast from Gaza for the first time since the 2007 takeover. The station's Gaza correspondent, Adel Zaanoun, discussed the excitement that Gazans felt about unity and invited Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader, onto the program.

"Today we end a dark chapter in our recent history," Radwan said. "It's time now to work together ... With the support of our people and the Arab brothers, we will make this agreement work."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implored Abbas to reconsider the deal on Tuesday in a last-ditch attempt to stave off the signing, but to no avail.

"I call on Abu Mazen (Abbas) to cancel the agreement with Hamas immediately and to choose the way of peace with Israel," the prime minister in a statement after meeting Middle East envoy Tony Blair.

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

"We want to do something new," the deputy foreign minister said, adding "we don't want to waste our time with negotiations all the time."