If the announced Fatah- Hamas reconciliation agreement truly comes into effect,
it would constitute a “great setback to peace,” Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu told a visiting congressional delegation on Thursday, calling the move
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“I wish the flow of events was in the other direction,” he
told a delegation of about a dozen congressmen, headed by Democratic Rep. Eliot
Engel from New York.
Hamas representatives emphasized that the new unity
agreement, reached on Wednesday, did not require them to accept the two-state
solution or to engage in peace talks with Israel.
They also stressed that
the interim unity government that was expected to be established soon would not
conduct peace negotiations with Israel.
Netanyahu, who on Wednesday said
the Palestinian Authority needed to choose between Hamas and peace with Israel,
said Israel expected the international community to make it clear that Hamas had
to meet the three Quartet benchmarks for recognition: recognizing Israel,
forswearing terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian
Netanyahu expressed concern that Fatah’s new deal with Hamas
– a terrorist organization that has as its goal the destruction of Israel –
indicates that in the view of the PA leadership, the creation of a Palestinian state would
be a way of continuing the conflict with Israel, not ending it.
minister’s meeting with the US lawmakers came amid a day of intense discussion
with top cabinet ministers regarding how best to react to the surprise
Palestinian reconciliation announcement.
“This is very serious,” one
government official said, summing up the day of talks. “This is seen not as a
tactical change, but rather a strategic one – a game changer. How can the
Palestinian leadership say they want peace with Israel, and at the same time
embrace the most extreme, violent enemies of peace?” One of the matters being
discussed is the fate of the existing security cooperation with the Palestinian
Authority, if indeed Hamas is brought back into the PA. The relative security
quiet over the past few months in the West Bank has been attributed partly to
this cooperation, and to the PA’s rounding up of Hamas activists.
is also a great deal of concern in Jerusalem that the Fatah-Hamas agreement will
include as one of its clauses the release of Hamas prisoners in PA jails,
something that would put dozens of terrorists back on the streets in Judea and
Samaria and call into question the value of the security
Netanyahu’s discussions on Thursday with his top ministers
also included consultation with top security officials about possible Israeli
responses. Among the ideas that have been raised were stopping the transfer of
tax funds Israel collects on behalf of the PA to a Palestinian government that
includes Hamas, and denying passage into Israel for PA VIPs.
Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, said in an Israel Radio interview that Israel
feared that Hamas, not Fatah, would have the upper hand even in a temporary
caretaker government. He also said that Israel must make clear to the world that
it would not deal with Hamas until it accepted the Quartet’s
If Hamas did accept these conditions, however, then there
would be no barrier to talking with a unified PA government since then, Hamas
would essentially cease being Hamas, Barak said.
The reconciliation deal
was still very much in the nascent stage, and it was too early to tell whether
it would come to fruition, he said.
Israel’s immediate diplomatic
challenge was to make sure the international community did not accept this move
until Hamas accepted the Quartet criteria, Barak said.
The focus of
Netanyahu’s scheduled trip to London and Paris next week is now expected to be
as much on this issue, as it is on the original goal of the trip: lobbying
against UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September.
that Israel continued to have an interest in separating from the Palestinians
and establishing two states.
“But it is forbidden to do this if that will
harm Israel’s security,” he said. “Israel’s security in an agreement rests on
three things: a physical presence along the Jordan River to prevent what
happened on the Philadelphi Corridor [between Gaza and Sinai]; deepening the
ties with the US; and the strengthening or upgrading of both Israel’s offensive
and defensive capacities, including the ability to operate in Iran, and the
ability to protect ourselves from rockets.”
To ensure this, Israel would
need a more sophisticated diplomatic line than to say simply that Hamas was bad,
and Israel was opposed to its reconciliation with Fatah, he said.
Egyptian security delegation is scheduled to visit the Gaza Strip soon for talks
with Hamas leaders on the implementation of the unity deal with Fatah, sources
close to Hamas said on Thursday.
The delegation’s main mission would be
to discuss ways of restructuring the security forces in the Gaza Strip so that
they would include members of all Palestinian factions, and not only Hamas, the
The Egyptians are also seeking to establish a new and
independent security force that would report directly to the Palestinian
parliament, the sources added.
Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel hailed
the accord as a step toward ending the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
agreement that was reached in Cairo will increase chances of lifting the
blockade,” he said.
Bardaweel praised Fatah for reaching the conclusion
that the “path of peace” with Israel was nothing but a “big
Fatah representative Ahmed Assaf said the deal came as a result
of his faction’s belief in the importance of unity.
He rejected US and
Israeli criticism of the Egyptian-sponsored accord and said that Israel,
together with “other parties,” would try to foil the agreement.
Fatah officials said that the political platform of the interim government
remained unclear at this stage. They said, however, that the two sides had
agreed that political issues would be handled by the PLO and not by the unity
government, which would consist of “professional” figures only.
analyst Hani al-Masri said that despite the agreement, he had no doubt that
differences would still erupt between the two parties. “What is important is
that there is a real and sincere will to overcome these differences on both
sides,” he explained.
Masri, who participated in the reconciliation
discussions in Cairo, said that recent events in Egypt and Syria, as well as
public pressure, had contributed to making the agreement
President Shimon Peres, meanwhile, said on Thursday that the
Palestinian agreement was not one of unity, but of “a split.”
“Hamas is a
recognized terror organization,” he said. “According to this agreement, Hamas
doesn’t have to change its charter that calls for the destruction of Israel,
they can continue to shoot at us as they did when firing on a yellow school bus
[on April 7].”
Calling Hamas a “branch of Iran,” Peres called upon the
Fatah leadership not to permit a “division that legitimizes destruction and
The UN, he said, “cannot accept or recognize a terrorist
organization as a state in September. It is not too late. Let’s take the
road of peace. Let’s not create an impossible situation – neither for the
Palestinians, nor for us.”
The unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah is
a “blessed, positive move,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on
Thursday, according to the IRNA news agency.
The move was “in line with
the Palestinian nation’s historic objectives,” Salehi said. He praised the new
Egyptian government’s role in mediating between the two factions.
Iranian foreign minister added that the uniting force between the two groups was
“resistance against the Zionist occupiers,” as well as unity among the
“Observing these two necessities would lead to the
materialization of the Palestinian nation’s absolute rights,” IRNA quoted him as
Salehi also said he hoped that the reconciliation agreement would
“lead to acceleration of the developments in the Palestine region and to
acquiring great victories in confrontations with the ruthless occupiers.”