Hamas, a group designated by the State Department and the European Union as a foreign terrorist organization “is not and will never be” a terrorist organization, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator says.

Saeb Erekat, with whom Israeli and American negotiators – including Secretary of State John Kerry – have spent countless hours trying to forge a peace deal, made the bold claim at a conference on Friday in Ramallah, the Tower website reported on Tuesday.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat (L) welcomes Secretary of State John Kerry (R) upon his arrival at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 3, 2014, as Kerry undertakes his latest push for an elusive Middle East peace deal. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images/Pool)

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (L) welcomes Secretary of State John Kerry (R) upon his arrival at the presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 3, 2014, as Kerry undertakes his latest push for an elusive Middle East peace deal. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images/Pool)

Middle East Monitor reported that Erekat spoke at a conference hosted by the think tank Masarat which promotes unity between various Palestinian political factions.

“Hamas is a Palestinian movement, is not and will never be a terrorist organization,” Erekat was quoted as saying.

Israel National News provided a slightly different translation for the quote, writing that Erekat said, “I hereby declare, in the make of President Mahmoud Abbas and the directorate of Fatah, that Hamas is a Palestinian movement, and is not and never was a terror group.”

Hamas which governs Gaza, has targeted scores of Israeli civilians and soldiers, was involved in the 2006 kidnapping of Israel Defense Forces recruit Gilad Shalit and has been behind the firing of some of the thousands of rockets at Israeli cities.

The Tower further reported that Erekat over the weekend offered a paper calling for a Palestinian unity government which would incorporate Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – both of which are denoted by the State Department as foreign terrorist organizations – into the Palestinian Authority leadership.