Rather than moderating Hamas, there are increasing signs that the Palestinian unity government pact is helping the Gaza-based Islamist organization gain strength in the West Bank, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
“Over the weekend Hamas leaders again declared their intention to destroy the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
“Those who thought that the Palestinian unity between Hamas and Fatah would moderate Hamas were mistaken. Instead of the Palestinian Authority taking control of Gaza, there are increasing signs that the exact opposite is taking place: that Hamas is increasing its control inside the PA in Judea and Samaria.”
For this reason, he said, international pressure is needed on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to reverse course and end cooperation with Hamas.
After pointing out that Abbas committed himself to upholding all previous commitments, Netanyahu added: “The first commitment is to demilitarize the territories under the Palestinian government’s control, including, of course, the Gaza Strip.”
Later in the day, Netanyahu – referring to President Shimon Peres’s joint “prayer for peace” on Sunday at the Vatican with Abbas – told Border Police officers and IDF soldiers that “we all pray for peace.”
“The Jewish People have been praying for peace every day for thousands of years,” he told the policeman and soldiers who were involved in two terrorist attacks at the Tapuach junction in Samaria last week, including those were wounded.
“Until peace comes, we will continue to strengthen you so that you – Border Police personnel and IDF soldiers – may continue to protect the State of Israel,” he said.
The prime minister acknowledged that the task they are called upon to perform – maintaining security while allowing for daily routine – was complex, and involved difficult dilemmas.
“Of course, the first mission is to protect your lives and those of Israeli citizens, who are threatened by relentless terrorism and unending attempted terrorist attacks,” he said.
“We know this. It is not over, and signing this or that document does not change it.”
In a related development, Netanyahu praised Australia at the cabinet meeting for refuting the lie that east Jerusalem is “occupied territory.”
Referring to Canberra’s decision announced last week to cease using the word “occupied” in reference to Jerusalem, Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting that this was a “courageous” move that is “refreshing” in light of the typical chorus of “hypocrisy and ignorance” regarding the matter.
Ignorance, Netanyahu said, “not only of ancient history but also of modern history, the history of our time. What really happened here? Who invaded whom? Who conquered what? What is negotiable?” Netanyahu said he very much appreciated the Australian move, which refused to “sanctify a lie.” He added that those who indeed were interested in a peaceful resolution to the conflict realize that it must be based on truth, and not “historical lies.”
Meanwhile, outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the Herzliya Conference that the current “pause” in the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations was “untenable in the long run.” One reason, he said, is that a “simple pause can bring about further deterioration in the situation.”
Barroso said the European Union understood Israel needed “robust assurances” that peace would increase – not decrease – the country’s security and must lead to an “end to the conflict once and for all.”
On his second visit to Israel since becoming the president of the European Commission a decade ago, Barroso said the blueprints of peace are on the table, and that what was required now was the “political courage on both sides to take decisive steps.”
The EU leader reiterated the European opposition to settlement construction, saying “We are deeply concerned that continued settlement activity renders more remote the two-state solution that is in Israel’s interests.”
He said he recognized that Israeli- Palestinian peace was not a “magic wand” that would solve all the problems in the Middle East overnight, but that it would “eliminate a key fault line running through the region.”
Barroso reiterated the EU’s commitment to grant Israel and a future Palestinian state a special privileged status with the EU if an agreement is signed, something that he said would make Israel’s relationship with the EU similar to that which exists today between the EU and non-EU states such as Norway and Switzerland.
“There is nothing inevitable about conflict. Old enemies can be reconciled and confrontation replaced by cooperation,” he said, citing European experience.
He said there are basic commonalities between all people.
“All human beings, after all, want to live in peace and have the right for themselves and their children and grandchildren to live in peace, and study and work and enjoy life,” he said. “I’m sure this is common to people in this region, why should it be different?” Barroso discussed the current situation in talks earlier in the day with Netanyahu. Before those talks, Barroso and Netanyahu witnessed the signing of Israel’s participation in the EU’s Horizon 2020, an €80 billion science and innovation program.
Israel’s participation in the program was made possible after the sides agreed to disagree regarding EU’s settlement guidelines, which stipulate that no EU grants, prizes or financial instruments, such as loans, can go to Israeli entities operating outside the Green Line, including in east Jerusalem and on the Golan Heights.