Khaled Yacoub Oweis
February 3, 2009 - 1:00am

Hamas will not push for Palestinian reconciliation talks if President Mahmoud Abbas insists on the supremacy of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Islamist group said yesterday.

In a statement, a high-level Hamas official accused Abbas of siding with Israel during its invasion of Gaza and seeking to "return on Israeli tanks" to govern the territory.

Abbas on Sunday rejected a call by Hamas to replace the PLO with an organization less dominated by his allies and said recognizing the primacy of the PLO in representing all Palestinians was a condition for dialogue.

Despite the creation of a Palestinian Authority to govern the territories, the PLO still wields great influence as the internationally recognized "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," including those in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Unlike Hamas, it has recognized Israel.

"Mahmoud Abbas spoke impulsively, perhaps reflecting the confusion he is living in after the victory of Hamas and the resistance in Gaza. We assure him that we are not begging for dialogue and we are not running after it," Hamas official Mohamed Nazzal said in Damascus, where Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal lives in exile.

Hamas regards its position as stronger after withstanding the three-week Israeli offensive on Gaza, which killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, including 700 civilians. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed.

Hamas and Israel declared separate cease-fires Jan. 18.

"Abbas and his entourage were waiting for the collapse of Hamas and the resistance to go back to Gaza on Israeli tanks after many of them fled in their underwear in June 2007," Nazzal said.

Hamas defeated Fatah forces loyal to the Western-backed Abbas and seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, leaving Abbas and his Fatah faction controlling only the West Bank.

Relations between Hamas and Fatah have plummeted since.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not part of the PLO, which is dominated by Abbas and factions loyal to him, despite a 2005 agreement to bring them under its umbrella.

Hamas official Ayman Taha told Reuters in Cairo from Gaza: "Our position is clear. Our demand is the rebuilding or reform of the PLO, but if the other side insists on not reforming the PLO or rebuilding it, it is our right to look at other options."

Palestinian political commentator Ali Badwan said although the PLO was largely defunct as an organization, Hamas's entry would raise legitimacy of the Islamist group and weaken Fatah.

"The PLO has wide Arab and international recognition. Its institutions are barely alive but as a political tool it is useful," Badwan said.

"Hamas considers the PLO as having been hijacked by Fatah and wants to redress the balance. That would only weaken Abbas and his men," he added.


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