PM to US: Send clear message to PA not to join Hamas

In meeting with visiting J Street delegation, PA president says his preference is for a peace process, not unilateral declaration.

mahmoud abbas_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
mahmoud abbas_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday night urged visiting American lawmakers to send a clear message to the Palestinian Authority not to join in a unity government with Hamas.
The Palestinians have to make a choice for peace or a choice to go with Hamas, Netanyahu told a bipartisan delegation lead by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
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The international community has to encourage the Palestinians to make the right choice and to let them know that there are negative consequences to a union with Hamas, Netanyahu said.
The group of eight representatives are in Israel for two days as part of a Middle East trip that also included a visit to Iraq.
They spoke with Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office ahead of of the prime minister’s trip to the United States later this month, where he is expected to meet with US President Barack Obama and address a joint meeting of Congress.
Hope had been high that the US trip would be a prelude to a breakthrough in the peace process. But last week’s signing of a unity deal between Fatah and Hamas has doused such expectations.
Israel has said that it will not negotiate with a newly unified Fatah-Hamas government that does not accept the Quartet’s three principles: renunciation of terror, recognition of Israel and the acceptance of past agreements.
It is very important for the US and the international community to speak clearly about these three benchmarks, Netanyahu told the visiting Americans.
He spoke on the same day that a visiting delegation from the Jewish American non-governmental group J Street visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Abbas told the group that he wanted to make peace with Israel.
If there was diplomatic progress toward peace, he said, then the Palestinians would postpone their plan to unilaterally seek statehood from the United Nations in September.
“If progress was recorded in negotiations, September would become a meaningless deadline because our preference is a peace process,” Abbas was quoted by Army Radio as saying.
Steve Krubiner, who is J Street’s Israel and international programs director and who sat in on the meeting with Abbas, said the statement came in response to a question raised by the left-leaning advocacy group.
“We asked him directly: If a credible plan were put on the table to bring you back to the negotiations, how would that effect September?” Krubiner said over the phone from Ramallah.
“He said his number one preference is negotiations and the UN route is a fallback.”
A threat by members of the US Congress to cut off aid to the PA if Hamas is part of the Palestinian government was also raised during the meeting, Krubiner said.
“Abbas said he believed such an action would have a effect counter than intended and [would] strengthen Hamas,” Krubiner said. “He [Abbas] said the new government coalition would be technocratic and would not include individuals affiliated with either party.”
Krubiner said the parameters mentioned by Abbas for restarting talks were the same as those put forward several months ago by Western countries involved in the negotiations.
“A two or three month settlement freeze might bring him back at the table,” he said. “If I were Israel or America, I would test it.”
Israeli officials asked in response that if Abbas wanted peace, why did he enter a coalition with Hamas, which has refused to accept the Quartet’s principles and is still dedicated to destroying Israel.
There is a clear distinction between Abbas’s words and his actions, one official said.
“If he breaks his pact with Hamas, the door is open to negotiations and to an immediate resumption of the peace process. But he cannot tell foreign audiences that he is serious about peace while embracing the most violent and extreme enemies of peace,” the official said.
In the past, Israel had refused to cede to the Palestinian demand for a full settlement freeze, including in east Jerusalem. It had, however, imposed a 10-month moratorium on new settlements construction.
The move brought the Palestinians back to the negotiating table only in the last weeks of the moratorium. Palestinians left the talks when Israel refused to extend the freeze.
On Sunday morning, Netanyahu told the cabinet that Israel would not talk with the new Palestinian Hamas government unless it accepted the Quartet’s three principles. He said he had stressed this point to British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his trip to London and Paris last week.
He clarified, “If this [Fatah- Hamas] union was for peace, we would support it. However, it pushes us away from peace and, in effect, the PA is accepting into its ranks a body that is committed to our destruction in word, deed and in its armament program. This is a move that is very anti-peace.”
Netanyahu added that it was his impression that the actions which Israel took as soon as the PA-Hamas agreement became known, as well as his talks in London and Paris, had succeeded to a certain degree in blocking the wave of support that the Palestinians had received in many countries prior to the unity deal.
But earlier this week, J Street founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami advocated a different approach, saying he believed the new unity government should be given a trial period until its policy toward Israel is determined.
“Jumping out to say either this is a terrible thing or a good thing is in our opinion not the wisest move, and the real question is what this new alignment is really going to stand for and what is it going to do, and that we don’t know,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
The J Street delegation, which arrived in Israel this week, was scheduled to meet with several other politicians in addition to Abbas, including President Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The delegation consists of 25 board members and donors.