‘The day after peace talks collapse” — it was a statement looming over the negotiations since the very beginning, a menacing warning cited by politicians and the press alike.
And yet the morning after the Israeli ministerial cabinet unanimously voted to suspend talks, the Hebrew press refrains from calling it quits, opting to cling fervently to the reassurance from chief negotiator Tzipi Livni that “the door is not yet closed.”
Israel Hayom maintains that “the cabinet has, in effect, decided on the suspension of the talks, not on their termination, and this is due to the intention to renew [negotiations] if the Palestinian reconciliation fails in the coming month.”
In line with the paper’s consistent Netanyahu-backing stance, columnist Haim Shine defends the government decision in an op-ed.
“The Israeli government’s unanimous decision to suspend the peace talks with the Palestinians was not dramatic,” he writes. “It was the only responsible, reasonable, and required decision after Abu Mazen’s [PA President Abbas's] malicious defiance in embracing Hamas, an embrace that occurred at a critical time in extending the peace talks.”
Similarly, Yedioth Ahronoth emphasizes that the ruling does not spell out the end of the peace process.
“Israel is not closing the door on the return to negotiations with the Palestinians, but is creating a red line according to which it will not negotiate with the Palestinians in the event they form a government of experts backed by Hamas,” the paper writes.
Yedioth quotes Livni as saying to the daily, “I will not negotiate with a terror organization that harms Israeli citizens. The ball is now in the Palestinians’ court. If they come to their senses, we’ll return to negotiations. I have opposed any negotiations with Hamas in the past, and I will not change my mind for political interests.”
The paper also reports that the sanctions Israel is set to impose on the Palestinian Authority — announced after the cabinet meeting Thursday — are the very same ones introduced two weeks ago. These include freezing tax funds to cover the Palestinian debt to the Israel Electric Corporation and to hospitals, halting joint Israel-PA projects, and preventing PA banks from depositing money in Israeli banks.
“The decision to halt the Palestinian funds is theft, which the international community must stop,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in response.
In addition, the cabinet decided to launch an international PR campaign against the Fatah-Hamas connection, the paper writes.
Haaretz highlights the Israeli disappointment with the US’s “feeble response” to the unity deal.
“We expect an American statement that is more firm and resolute,” an unnamed senior official said. “The Americans need to clarify to Abbas that enough is enough — that he simply cannot join up with Hamas. We cannot accept that the US discusses the politics of a unity government that is to be formed, but ignores the fact that this is a pact with Hamas.”
In an analysis for the paper, correspondent Barak Ravid described both Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as being “caught off guard” by the Palestinian unity pact.
“While Kerry was fuming over the Palestinian move, the mood at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem was of fury mixed with panic, fused with a hunger for revenge. Yet Netanyahu quickly realized that the developing crisis called for caution and refrained from making any irreversible decisions that would officially nix any chances of a return to the negotiating table,” writes Ravid.
This caution manifests itself in holding off from making any dramatic moves, such as renewed settlement construction that could backfire, Ravid argues.
“Israel’s current objective is to drive its point home to Abbas: The price of actualizing the agreement with Hamas will far outstrip its benefits,” he comments.
In a column for the paper, Amira Hass describes the logistical “headache” that Fatah and Hamas will likely encounter in attempting to forge a unity government, such as the geographic distance between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; the bureaucratic difficulties, including the receiving of travel permits between the two areas from both Israel and Hamas; and the judicial and legislative infrastructure adopted in Gaza since 2006.
“Assuming that, despite the risks, there are elections and a parliament is elected, it will receive a difficult inheritance from the half-immobilized parliament: dozens of laws approved by Hamas through their legislative council (which has continued to meet); and presidential decrees in the West Bank, in effect as law, that Mahmoud Abbas has signed.”
Hass continues: “No one is discussing these headaches yet — at least, not publicly. If and when the first five-week bridge has been crossed, we will start hearing about them.”