Netanyahu huddles with top officials to discuss diplomatic, security impact of Abbas’s embrace of "most extreme, violent enemies of peace."
By HERB KEINON, KHALED ABU TOAMEH
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 “outrageous.”“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.RELATED:Fatah, Hamas reach Egyptian-brokered reconciliationUS to reconsider PA funding following unity dealHamas 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 agreements.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.The prime 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.There 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 cooperation.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.Defense 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 conditions.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.Barak said 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.An 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 sources said.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.“The 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 mirage.”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.Hamas and 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.Political 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 possible.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 hatred.”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.The Iranian foreign minister added that the uniting force between the two groups was “resistance against the Zionist occupiers,” as well as unity among the Palestinian people.“Observing these two necessities would lead to the materialization of the Palestinian nation’s absolute rights,” IRNA quoted him as saying.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.”
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