If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas tears up his pact with Hamas, “then it will open the way for somehow resuming the peace negotiations” with Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in comments published Wednesday.
Netanyahu’s words, in an interview during his visit to Tokyo with the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, came on the day that Abbas met in London with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
This was their first meeting since Abbas surprised the US and Israel and announced a unity pact with Hamas, leading Israel to suspend the talks just a week before the expiration of their nine-month deadline.
Netanyahu said that while Palestinian “national unity for peace is good, a pact with Hamas, which openly calls for our destruction and practices terror against our people – that’s bad.”
The prime minister said that he was asked by Kerry whether he would make a peace agreement with a Palestinian Authority that doesn’t govern all the Palestinian people, adding that “I said ‘yes,’ because I will make peace with that part of the Palestinian people that is prepared to live in peace with the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu said he hopes Abbas “dissolves” his pact with Hamas. “But if he establishes a government of national unity, and [if] Hamas continues to fire rockets to Israel, then we’ll have to hold President Abbas responsible. It just doesn’t make sense for him to [forge] this pact if he wants peace.”
Asked what would happen if Hamas accepted the quartet’s conditions for engagement and renounced terrorism, recognized Israel and accepted previous agreements, Netanyahu said “that would obviously be an entirely different situation, but unfortunately I don’t see it happening. They’re very ideological, very militant and very extreme, and they show no signs of such change.”
Meanwhile, Abbas was hoping to persuade the US administration to accept a Palestinian unity government that would be established in accordance with last month’s reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas.
Abbas planned to make it clear to Kerry that the proposed government would recognize Israel and reject violence, a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah said.
Noting that this was the first meeting between Kerry and Abbas since the breakdown of the US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the official said that the new government would report directly to the PA president and would not deal with issues related to the peace process.
“There’s no reason why the Americans should oppose the unity government, because it would consist of independent figures and technocrats,” the official told The Jerusalem Post before the meeting.
“The government would serve for a limited period of six months and its responsibilities would be restricted to day-to-day affairs of the Palestinian public. President Abbas and the PLO are the only ones entitled to conduct peace talks with Israel,” he added.
Another Palestinian official told the Post that he was “optimistic” that the US administration would not stand against the Hamas-Fatah deal.
The official said that the PA leadership has “succeeded” in convincing some top members of the US administration that the rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah would not have a negative impact on the peace process.
According to the official, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who met in Ramallah recently with Abbas, showed some understanding when she was briefed about the Fatah- Hamas deal.
“President Abbas had a very positive meeting with Rice,” the official said. “He answered all her questions regarding the deal with Hamas and she seemed to understand that it would not harm the peace process.”
The meeting between Kerry and Abbas came as Hamas and Fatah representatives said they had made progress toward reaching an agreement on the formation of a Palestinian unity government.
On Wednesday, the representatives met for three hours at the home of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to discuss the make-up of the new government, which would apparently be headed by Abbas.
Although Hamas and Fatah spokesmen voiced optimism following the meeting, sources in the Gaza Strip said that the two sides were still arguing over the names of the ministers who are expected to serve in the unity government.
Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmed told reporters the unity government would be announced before the end of this month. He said that more consultations were needed to reach agreement over the list of candidates slated to join the government.
Al-Ahmed, who arrived in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday evening, headed back to Ramallah to brief Abbas about the outcome of his talks with the Hamas leaders.
Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk said that the two sides have made “big progress” toward reaching agreement on the composition of the government, which he expected to be announced by the end of next week.
Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu Aytah told reporters the government would consist of independent figures with no political affiliations so as not to give Israel or the US an “excuse” to boycott the PA.
In a related development, the Hamas government announced that it was ready to hand over Abbas’s villa near Gaza City, and on Wednesday opened it to local journalists.
The villa was seized by Hamas in 2007 and has since been empty.