Israel will stop dealing with the Palestinian Authority if it brings Hamas into the government, a senior government official said Saturday night, a few hours after PA President Mahmoud Abbas met in Ramallah with a senior Hamas delegation for conciliation talks.
“Abbas has to choose whether he wants peace with Israel, or peace with Hamas,” the official said. “He can’t have both. If he chooses peace with Hamas it will bury the peace process.”
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Asked whether this meant that Israel wanted to see a permanent split between the West Bank controlled by Fatah, and Gaza controlled by Hamas, the official said Israel wanted to see the PA under Abbas once again take control of Gaza.
Israel’s objection to Hamas inside the PA government would evaporate, the official added, if the organization accepted the Quartet’s three conditions for acceptance: forswearing violence, recognizing Israel, and accepting previous Israel-Palestinian agreements.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has over the last few weeks made clear in various different forums his opposition to the reconciliation efforts, including in a CNN interview 10 days ago, in which he called the PA “timid” for not standing up to Hamas.
During that interview, Netanyahu – relating to the reconciliation attempts –said, “Now they’re talking about a national unity with Hamas that calls for our destruction.
How can you be for peace with Israel and peace with Hamas that calls for our destruction? It’s one or the other. Not both.”
The meeting in Ramallah between Abbas and the Hamas delegation from the West Bank, to discuss ways of ending the dispute between his Fatah faction and the Islamist movement, was the first of its kind in more than a year.
It followed Abbas’s recent offer to visit the Gaza Strip for talks with Hamas leaders on achieving Palestinian unity.
The offer has divided Hamas leaders. While some have welcomed it, others have announced that Abbas was unwelcome in the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas delegation that met with Abbas consisted of Abdel Aziz Dweik, Nasser Eddin al-Shaer, Mohammed Abu Tair, Samir Abu Eisheh, Ayman Daraghmeh, Abdel Rahman Zeidan and Wasfi Qabaha.
Abbas briefed the Hamas officials on his initiative, saying it was aimed at discussing the formation of a new government that consists of independent figures to prepare for presidential and legislative elections, and rebuild the Gaza Strip.
“We must deal with the changes in the region and confront together the challenges facing the Palestinians, first and foremost the continued Israeli aggression and threats to launch a fresh attack on the Gaza Strip,” Abbas was quoted as saying.
He told Hamas officials that it was important to abide by a cease-fire “so as not to give Israel an excuse to pursue its threats and to tackle the difficult internal situation facing the Palestinian cause – especially with regards to the September deadline [when the Palestinians are scheduled to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state].”
The Palestinians, he stressed, must be united ahead of the September deadline.
“No peace would achieve the aspirations of our people – to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital – without ending the division [with Hamas] and achieving national unity,” Abbas added.
Dweik, who is the most senior Hamas representative in the West Bank, called for an end to the “media war” between Fatah and Hamas. He said the talks focused on Abbas’s offer to visit the Gaza Strip, which he welcomed as a positive initiative.
“Palestinians are fed up with the division,” Dweik said.
“Something needs to be done to rearrange the Palestinian home and assess the political situation.”
He said the process of reconciliation would begin with Abbas’s visit to the Gaza Strip, after which “it would take its natural path.”
Last week, Hamas refused to receive a Fatah delegation that was supposed to visit the Gaza Strip to prepare for Abbas’s arrival, Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah official in the West Bank, said over the weekend.
The delegation later visited Cairo to brief Egyptian government officials and the Arab League on Abbas’s initiative to end the split dispute with Hamas.
Dweik described the talks with Abbas as “candid and positive,” and expressed hope that Abbas would be able to travel to the Gaza Strip in the near future.
Ahmed also described the talks as positive and “thorough.”
However, he said that until now, Hamas has not taken “practical steps” that would enable Abbas to visit the Gaza Strip.
Ahmed said despite “negative” statements issued by Hamas spokesmen in response to Abbas’s offer, “we will not despair and we will continue to make direct and indirect efforts to ensure the success of the initiative and end the state of division.”
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said Abbas’s initiative to achieve reconciliation with Hamas has won the backing of the Arab League, the Islamic Conference, UN, EU, Russia and Qatar.
He described the initiative as a “roadmap” designed to end divisions among Palestinians.
He also urged Hamas to accept the offer.
Ismail al-Ashqar, a Hamas representative in the Gaza Strip, said that while his movement welcomed the initiative, it does not want a “protocol visit” by Abbas.
“Abbas’s visit to the Gaza Strip must have a defined goal,” he emphasized. “The visit should be preceded by goodwill gestures such as the release of Hamas supporters from Palestinian prisons.”
The Hamas official warned that a “protocol visit” by Abbas at this phase would only deepen divisions in light of the absence of mutual trust between Hamas and Fatah.