The swearing in of a new Palestinian unity government on Monday elicited strong reactions from Israeli leaders, with right-wing cabinet ministers condemning the alliance of “terrorists in suits,” and centrists urging a more cautious approach.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) set the tone for many, insisting that Hamas’s support for the Palestinian Authority government meant that “the prospect of a Palestinian state ran into the wall of reality today. It’s time to switch from defense to the attack and do what is good for Israel.”
He said the new administration was “a government of terrorists in suits” and called it “an illegitimate government.” On his Facebook page, Bennett quoted anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist passages from the Hamas charter, asking, “So is there someone out there that still thinks that this is a partner?”
While Bennett’s comments were echoed by many in the coalition, others, such as Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid, urged caution.
“This is not a time for overreaction. I urge my friends in the government and the Knesset not to give Hamas the opportunity to turn the fire back at us just for the sake of a headline in the domestic political arena,” Lapid said in a thinly veiled reference to the comments from the right.
Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel, also of Jewish Home, condemned Abbas for establishing “a government of terror with common murderers,” adding that the PA president “proved today once again that he is not interested in peace with the State of Israel.”
Ariel called on the government to respond to the Palestinian move by lifting an alleged partial construction freeze in Jewish settlements.
MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) said the unity government was established on the principle of refusing to recognize Israel, and reiterated calls by his party to “strengthen” Israel’s presence in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli administrative control.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon echoed Bennett’s charge against the Palestinian government and warned foreign governments against giving aid to the PA.
“The suits of the [unity government] ministers are just pretty casings for the acts of terror that they have overseen,” he said. “As of now all aid given to the Palestinians by the United States and other countries directly contributes to harming the State of Israel,” Danon said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman mocked Israel’s response, and seemed to take a surprisingly conciliatory tone for a famously hawkish politician.
“Every minister in the government has his own strategy, but the government of Israel has no strategy,” he said, according to Channel 10. “We need to reach an agreement for a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. To leave Jews in a Palestinian state would not be responsible.”
Liberman criticized the Jewish Home party for not accepting the premise of a Palestinian state, as well as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni for her willingness to negotiate a Palestinian state “at any price.”
Labor MK Nachman Shai said the establishment of the new Palestinian government presents “not only a risk, but also a chance” to take a different course. But, he added, the government’s proposed steps — including a refusal to recognize the new government and the cutting of funds to its coffers — “will be a further deterioration of the situation from both a diplomatic and security standpoint.”
Hatnua MK Amram Mitzna called for introspection, saying that “Hamas does not abet terrorism. In our government as well, we aren’t all peaceful.”
Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas ended several years of animosity when they reached an agreement in late April to form an interim unity government of technocrats, with full elections by year’s end.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also alluded to possible “unilateral steps” in response to the failure of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu ended peace talks with Abbas after the unity government was announced, and has repeatedly stated that Israel will not work with a Palestinian leadership that includes Hamas, which Israel and much of the West consider a terror group. On Monday, Netanyahu hit out at European governments for condemning a shooting attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels while responding with “ambiguity” to Palestinian reconciliation.
The Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.