JERUSALEM: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday over just-revived unity talks with Hamas, saying he had to choose between peace with Israel or its Islamist enemy.
Amplifying Netanyahu’s warning, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Abbas’ signature on a unity accord with Hamas would be tantamount to “signing the termination of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority”.
Delegates from Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party-led Palestine Liberation Organisation held a fence-mending session in the Gaza Strip, their first since a 2007 conflict in which forces loyal to the Western-backed leader lost control of the enclave to the militant group, an opponent of peace with Israel.
A Palestinian official who attended the meeting said there had been an “agreement in principle” on forming a “government of experts” — or a cabinet staffed by technocrats rather than politicians, possibly within five weeks.
An Israeli warplane struck the northern Gaza Strip yesterday wounding six people, one very seriously, the territory’s Hamas rulers said. The raid came as thousands took to the streets of Gaza City to celebrate the announcement by Hamas and the PLO of an agreement to form a unity government to end seven years of divided administration.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment. The rival Palestinian movements had agreed shortly before the strike to form a unity government of independents within five weeks under the leadership of the West Bank-based Palestinian president.
Palestinian hopes of reconciliation have been dashed repeatedly in the past. Since 2011, Hamas and Fatah have failed to implement an Egyptian-brokered unity deal because of disputes over power-sharing and the handling of the conflict with Israel.
The new bid for reconciliation coincided with meetings between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to try to extend US-sponsored peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline. Sources from both sides said strong disagreements remained after they convened in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Netanyahu asked: “Does he (Abbas) want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel?”
“You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace. So far he hasn’t done so,” he said.
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, said Palestinian unity was an internal matter.
“Abbas chooses peace and the unity of the Palestinian people,” Abu Rdeineh said. “The choice of unifying the Palestinian people enforces peace, and there is no contradiction whatsoever between reconciliation and negotiations.”
Lieberman, in a statement released by his spokesman, said Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, “cannot make peace both with Israel and Hamas, a terrorist organisation that calls for Israel’s destruction”. An agreement, paving the way for elections and a national strategy towards Israel, could not only give Abbas a measure of sovereignty in Gaza but also help Hamas, hemmed in by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, become less isolated.
In the troubled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, both sides have said they are willing to extend the talks championed by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
However, Netanyahu accused Abbas of making unacceptable demands. Meeting Israeli journalists, Abbas had said Israel should commit to freezing settlement activity on occupied land and focus on demarcating the borders of a future Palestine.
“We’re trying to re-launch the negotiations with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said. “Every time we get to that point (Abbas) stacks on additional conditions which he knows that Israel cannot give.”
Abbas told the reporters that Israel, as the occupying power in the West Bank, would be obliged to take on the administrative and financial burden of governing Palestinian areas.
Kerry revived the peace talks in July after a nearly three-year hiatus, with the aim of ending a decades-old conflict and establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside Israel.Agencies