Israel has announced that it is fully suspending peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the wake of an announcement regarding a national unity agreement between the PA and Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top-level members of his security cabinet “decided unanimously that it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that incorporates Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel,” a government statement said.
Speaking on the cabinet’s decision, Netanyahu commented, “Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen [Abbas] formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel.”
He said that Abbas has signed a treaty with “an organization whose covenant calls for Muslims to fight and kill Jews.” Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, has fired over 10,000 missiles towards Israel and “has not halted terrorist actions against Israel even for a minute.”
The announcement of the unity deal is a “direct continuation of the Palestinian refusal to advance the talks,” Netanyahu said, referencing the Palestinians rejection of a US framework peace agreement to extend negotiations last month.
“The agreement between Abu Mazen and Hamas was signed even as Israel is making efforts to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians,” the prime minister said. “Whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace.”
In an emergency meeting that lasted all Thursday afternoon, Israel also agreed to introduce increased economic sanctions against the PA, including withholding tax revenue Israel collects on behalf of the PA.
Israel’s Justice Minister and chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni said Israel had no choice but to suspend talks. “First of all, the decision to suspend talks is a correct decision,” she said in an interview with Channel 2.
“It may be that for Abu Mazzen [Abbas], Hamas is a political entity. For us, and for the entire world, it is a designated terror organization that does not recognize our existence, and acts against civilians through terror,” she said.
Israeli officials have pointed out that the carefully worded government decision to suspend talks does not rule out a future time when peace talks can resume. Should PA President Mahmoud Abbas fail to create a unity government with Hamas in the next five weeks as scheduled, Israel would be willing to return to the negotiating table.
Livni stressed that “we didn’t close the door” on future peace talks. However, Israel has made it clear that it will not negotiate with any government that has relies on Hamas support or includes Hamas ministers in positions of power.
The US has dubbed the unity agreement “disappointing in terms of the content as well as the timing.” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to sit down and negotiate with a group that denies its right to exist.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that negotiations had reached “a difficult point.”
“There’s always a way forward, but the leaders have to make the compromises to do that,” Kerry told reporters. “We may see a way forward, but if they’re not willing to make the compromises necessary it becomes very elusive.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman commented, “As long as there is a deal with Hamas and Abbas goes into the direction of an agreement with Hamas, the agreement with Israel is impossible.”
Liberman said that his party “will not accept a [Palestinian] government that openly receives its authority from Hamas, an organization that clearly speaks about violence, terror and doesn’t recognize our right to exist and doesn’t recognize our previous agreements.”
When asked whether a unified Palestinian government would make it easier to negotiate peace, Liberman responded, “It’s not that he [Abbas] rules over Gaza. Rather, Gaza rules over Judea and Samaria.”
“It is clear to everyone who can analyze the reality on the ground and know the facts that, unfortunately, the direction is not toward peace, but toward an escalation and confrontation with Israel,” the foreign minister said. “Hamas deals with classical terrorism; Abbas does diplomatic terror.”
In response to Israel’s decision, the Palestinians are weighing “all options.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP, “The Palestinian leadership will look into all options to respond to Israeli government decisions against the PA.”
“The priority now for the Palestinians is reconciliation and national unity,” he said.
Jibril Rajoub, a high-ranking Fatah official, insisted in an interview with Channel 2 that “the two-state solution is the only game in town.”
“We are not ready to cancel the endgame of the conflict,” Rajoub said. He claimed that because of the Palestinian unity agreement, “today you have a partner” for peace.
The Gazan terrorist organization responsible for ongoing rocket and missile attacks towards Israel, Islamic Jihad, has praised the unity pact and expressed concerns that Israel would try to sabotage the deal.
“This deal is a step in the right direction and we hope to implement it,” Islamic Jihad spokesperson Khaled al-Batch told AFP.
“We need to be aware that the next five weeks are very long and we are afraid outside interference from Israeli pressure and those opposed to Palestinian unity might sabotage this,” Batch added.
On Wednesday, the IAF conducted a targeted airstrike against an Islamic Jihad terrorist in the Gaza Strip on his way to conduct rocket attacks against Israel. The airstrike came several hours after three rockets were fired at Israel, one landing at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.