Undeterred by warnings that progress toward Fatah-Hamas unity will mean the demise of the Israel-Palestinan peace talks, the Palestinians announced on Wednesday their agreement to end a seven-year rift between the two factions.
The deal calls for a unity government to be formed within five weeks and for presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections within six months of the coalition being seated, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said.Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced the move, saying, “Abbas could have chosen peace with Israel instead of peace with a murderous terror organization. Tonight, while talks are ongoing to extend peace talks, he chose Hamas. … He who chooses Hamas does not want peace.”
Israel cancelled a meeting scheduled for Wednesday night with Palestinian officials over extending the negotiations in an apparent response to the announcement. The Israelis were deliberating where to go from here. Neither side has declared an end to the peace talks.
“The timing was troubling and we were certainly disappointed in the announcement,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a regular news briefing.
“It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist,” she said.
Chief Israeli negotiator Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said, “In light of the new situation, Israel must examine its implications, and consider its next steps accordingly.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had reiterated his warning to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about the consequences of his latest maneuver.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that if Abbas puts his signature to a unity accord with Hamas, it would mean “signing the termination of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said “a unity government between Abbas and Hamas reveals once again the unity between Hamas terrorists and Fatah leaders’ purposes — destroying the Jewish state.” Elkin also added that he is “not surprised that the natural place of the man who pays paychecks for terrorists is in Hamas’s warm embrace.”
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) told Army Radio that the Palestinian move is “a slap in the U.S.’s and its Secretary of State’s face. Abbas said no to peace and no to real negotiations.”
MK Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party said that “from now on every Kassam [rocket] is sent from Abbas.”
Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeineh rejected the Israeli comments, insisting that Palestinian unity was an internal matter.
Lieberman countered that Abbas “cannot make peace both with Israel and Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.”
Also on Wednesday, Netanyahu dismissed conditions set forth by Abbas on Tuesday for an extension of talks beyond April. Abbas demanded that Israel release the fourth batch of Palestinian security prisoners, including Israeli-Arabs, and that none of them be deported; that Israel freeze all construction beyond the Green Line; and that the first three months of the extended talks deal with the borders of a future Palestinian state.
Every time the two sides get close, Abbas adds new conditions, “knowing that Israel cannot accept them,” said Netanyahu.
Notwithstanding the seriousness of the development, it should be noted that a number of reconciliation efforts have been made by the Palestinians in recent years, each accompanied by proclamations of unity, but each time failing to materialize.