Just two hours after Israel suspended diplomatic talks with the Palestinians over Wednesday's Hamas-Fatah reconciliation pact, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he will "be there in the future if we have a partner that is committed to peace."
Netanyahu's comment came in an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, after the seven-member security cabinet decided unanimously Thursday afternoon following a six hour meeting in Tel Aviv to suspend current talks with the Palestinians.
This decision came just five days before the April 29 deadlines for the talks that have gone on in fits and starts since July.
"I think the pact with Hamas kills peace," Netanyahu said. "If it moves forward it means that peace moves backward. As the State Department said yesterday, the ball is in the Palestinian court. I hope they dribble it in the right direction. Right now they are kicking it backward."
According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister's Office, the cabinet decided that "Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction."
Government sources noted that the wording of the decision was significant in that it stated that it would not deal with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, meaning that it would be blackballed even if it was a "technocratic government" without Hamas ministers actually in the government.
The security cabinet also decided that it would take economic sanctions against the PA because of the move, though it did not specify what they would be. In the past Israel has discussed withholding money it collects for the PA for debts owed to Israel.
The cabinet also said that "Israel will respond to unilateral Palestinian action with a series of measures," without elaborating.
Hours after Jerusalem's decision, Obama administration officials expressed disappointment publicly and outrage privately at the timing and the manner with which Abbas chose to reconcile with Hamas.
Kerry expressed his "disappointment" to Abbas in a morning phone call, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. While whispers of such a deal had been heard for weeks, the US team was caught "off guard" by the move, multiple US officials told The Jerusalem Post
But responding to the suspension, Kerry refused to concede that the effort— his most time-consuming as secretary of state— was finished.
The United States "will never give up our hope or our commitment for the possibilities of peace," he said from the State Department.
"From the beginning of this process, it's always been up to the parties," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday, reflecting on the nine months of talks and declining to assign blame for there failure.
"There have been unhelpful steps taken by both," she added, "whether it's settlements, or the UN, or whatever it may be."
"It's important to remember that they've made similar announcements in the past," Psaki said of the Palestinian intention to reconcile, calling it "just that: a statement of intent."
Because of that nature, talk of suspending US aid to the Palestinians— legally required of Congress if a unity government forms with Hamas, should they continue terrorist activity and fail to recognize the Israeli state— is "hypothetical," Psaki added.
Nevertheless, members of the appropriations committees on Capitol Hill are already calling the aid package at risk.
The US, EU and the United Nations all call on Hamas to renounce violent resistance against Israel and to recognize the state. But so far only the US has condemned the reconciliation deal.
Channel 2 reported that senior government officials have said that even the US condemnation has not been as strong as Israel expected or would have liked to see.
Among those who voted in the security cabinet to suspend the talks was Israel's chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Livni, in a Channel 2 interview, said the security cabinet decision was "the right one." She added that while there were those inside the cabinet who wanted to call the talks off completely – apparently a reference to her rival Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett – it was wise to keep the door open if Abbas changes his mind.
Asked point blank whether she thought that Abbas was still a partner for peace, Livni said he "made bad decisions for the peace process." The true test, she said, "is still before us."
Netanyahu, following the security meeting, said that Abbas, instead of choosing peace, "formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction. Abu Mazen formed an alliance with an organization whose covenant calls for Muslims to wage Jihad against Jews."
Netanyahu said that Hamas has fired more than 10,000 missiles and rockets on Israel, and has never stopped "for a minute" its terrorist actions against Israel.
Pointing out that the new Fatah-Hamas pact was signed even as efforts were being made to keep the negotiations going, Netanyahu said this was a direct continuation of the Palestinian refusal to move forward on the current track.
Last month, Netanyahu said, Abbas refused the framework agreement proposed by the United States, refused to recognize Israel as the nations state of the Jewish people, and then applied – in contravention to the understandings that led to the current round of talks – to 15 international treaties and conventions.
"And then," Netanyahu said, "he signed an accord with Hamas. Anyone who chooses the terror of Hamas does not want peace."
His interview with MSNBC after after the cabinet meeting was part of a coordinated media blitz that also included interviews with FOX News, and the BBC. The purpose of the campaign, one government source said, was to "put pressure on Abbas to annul the decision, and to bolster support for Israel's decision not to negotiate with a government backed by Hamas."
In the coming days, the source said, Netanyahu will be speaking with key leaders around the world trying to get them to press Abbas to back out of the agreement.
Israel, the official said, will "also be calling upon governments to revise their relationship with the PA as a result of the new developments, "especially those countries who have officially designated Hamas a terrorist organization."
Netanyahu's efforts to get the world to push Abbas on this issue, however, will not be easy.
For instance, the UN's Middle East envoy, Robert Serry, issued a statement after meeting Abbas on Thursday saying that he was "assured that this agreement will be implemented under the leadership of the President and on the basis of the PLO commitments. President Abbas emphasized that these commitments include recognition of Israel, non-violence, and adherence to previous agreements. President Abbas also reiterated his continued commitment to peace negotiations and to non-violent popular protests."
Serry said the UN continued "support for unity on this basis as the only way to reunite the West Bank and Gaza under one legitimate Palestinian Authority."
Netanyahu, however, said in the MSNBC interview that the move was "a great reverse" for peace. "We will not sit and negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas, which Hamas has effective share of power. And neither would you. Would you negotiate with a government backed by al-Qaida? That calls for the destruction of America? That has murdered Americans?"
Netanyahu signaled that that he would renew negotiations if Abbas were to reverse course. "I will be there in the future if we have a partner who is committed to peace, right now we have a partner who has joined another partner committed to our destruction. No go," he said.
Responding to the crisis, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Thursday called the Palestinian deal "a direct affront to US Secretary of State John Kerry and a severe blow to the Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts."
"Participation in the PA government would violate previous agreements, international standards and democratic principles," the AIPAC said in a statement.