Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said Thursday evening that Israel had no choice but to suspend talks with the Palestinian Authority after PA President Mahmoud Abbas agreed a unity pact with Hamas.
“First of all, the decision to suspend the talks is a correct decision,” she said in an interview with Channel 2, soon after the Netanyahu government announced the suspension of peace negotiations.
“It may be that for Abu Mazen [Abbas], Hamas is [a] political [entity],” she said. “For us, and for the entire world, it is a designated terror organization that does not recognize our existence, and acts against civilians through terror [activities].” Israel “cannot act like all is business as usual, when it is not,” she said, given the new alliance announced Wednesday between Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas.
But Livni stressed that “we didn’t close the door” on an eventual resumption of talks.
“As long as the Palestinians are here, and as long as the State of Israel is in a state of conflict with them, I will act to open the doors — the doors did not close today — in order, if possible, to conduct negotiations. And I hope we can return to the negotiations, and the moment it happens I will be in the government to manage it,” she said.
Livni emphasized that the economic sanctions Israel is set to impose were not aimed at causing the collapse of the PA. “It is a temperate decision,” she added, noting that the government had not announced new settlement building plans, as it had when taking punitive action against the PA in the past.
Nonetheless, Livni, who heads the center-left Hatnua party, was bitterly critical of Abbas. She said Abbas had “refused to go along” with a US-drafted agreement last month that would have resolved a crisis over Palestinian prisoner releases and seen talks extended until the end of the year. Similarly, “two days ago, when we thought we could get the talks going again,” Abbas scuppered that opportunity by instead advancing the unity pact with Hamas.
“To my sorrow,” Abbas had taken a series of “bad decisions at sensitive moments” and “avoided the right decisions…. That’s why the US is also so dismayed,” she said.
The unanimous cabinet decision Thursday drew support from Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, while left-wing MKs denounced the move for being “hypocritical” and “cowardly.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet “decided unanimously that it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that incorporates Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel,” ministers agreed at an emergency meeting that lasted throughout Thursday afternoon. Israel also said it planned to introduce economic sanctions against the PA, which will include withholding tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
Israeli officials said the government decision had been carefully worded so as not to rule out a possible resumption of peace talks if, in the next five weeks, Abbas fails to agree with Hamas on the composition of a unity government as scheduled. At the same time, the wording was also designed to make plain that Israel will not negotiate with any Palestinian government that rests on Hamas support even if there are actually no Hamas ministers sitting around the cabinet table. Palestinian sources have said that Abbas intends to form a government of technocrats that might feature no Hamas or Fatah ministers.
A Palestinian Authority official said the PA would consider “all options” in response to Israel’s decision.
Israel had already called off a scheduled session of negotiations on Wednesday evening, soon after the unity pact was announced in Gaza.
“Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen [Abbas] made a deal with a murderous terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” Netanyahu said after Thursday’s meeting.
Hamas appeals to Muslims to kill Jews, has fired over 10,000 rockets at Israel, and “has not ceased for a moment from its terror activities against Israel,” Netanyahu added. “Whoever chooses Hamas’s terror does not want peace.”
The prime minister also denounced the timing of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, which occurred “at a time when Israel was making efforts to advance the negotiations.”
The announcement of the Palestinian unity deal is a “direct continuation of the Palestinian refusal to advance the talks,” Netanyahu said, citing what he said was the Palestinian rejection last month of a US framework agreement to extend negotiations, the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and Abbas’s appeal to UN agencies.
Netanyahu later said in US television interviews that the Israeli government “will be there, I’ll be there,” if there was a genuine partner for peace. But the unity pact showed that Israel had no such partner at present.
American Special Envoy Martin Indyk met in Ramallah on Thursday afternoon with Abbas and reportedly told him of US displeasure over the unity deal, which the State Department on Wednesday described as “disappointing.”
Israeli officials were quoted on Channel 2 later Thursday saying Jerusalem believes the US has been too soft on Abbas to date, as he has evaded substantive progress in the negotiations, and that the PA president would not have dared enter the unity pact with Hamas if the Obama administration had been firmer.
On Wednesday afternoon, Hamas and Fatah announced a reconciliation deal that would see the formation of a technocratic unity government within five weeks, and new elections six months later, after years of bitter rivalry. Similar agreements have been announced several times in recent years, but not implemented.
State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki described the news as “disappointing in terms of the content as well as the timing.” Speaking shortly after Israel canceled a scheduled Wednesday evening session of talks, Psaki said that the State Department understood why Israel found it difficult to continue negotiating following the announcement. “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to sit down and negotiate with a group that denies its right to exist,” Psaki told reporters. She said that the State Department believes that a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation would “certainly complicate the process.”