Justice Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday hailed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation of the kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers, and called on Israel and the international community to work with the Palestinians to combat Hamas.
Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were less effusive, saying they would “judge Abbas by his actions,” that he had been pressed by the US into making the remarks, and that they expected him to cancel his unity pact with Hamas.
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) praised Abbas’s comments while adopting a cautious tone. He said the statements were an “important step” but stressed that Israel “cannot ignore” the incitement against Israel within PA territories under Abbas’s aegis that he said had perpetuated a climate hostile to Israel that led to the kidnapping.
Abbas earlier Wednesday called in Arabic for the release of the three teenagers and said, “Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us [the Palestinians].”
“The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families,” he added, pledging to maintain the PA’s security coordination with Israel. “We are working with [Israel] to get them back.”
Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in the collapsed peace talks with the PA, said the president’s remarks were “important, correct, and reflect the reality: Hamas is a terrorist, radical Islamist organization that harms citizens and children and does not conduct war for the Palestinian nation and its nationalistic aspirations, but [rather] against the State of Israel’s existence and it cannot be legitimized.”
The minister, head of the centrist Hatnua party, said her statements were directed at the international community, “especially after they were said so clearly from Abbas as well.” Contrary to Livni’s statements, however, the PA president had refrained from naming the terror group as responsible for the attack.
Israel has claimed Hamas is behind the abduction. While celebrating the kidnapping, Hamas officials have denied any connection to it.
“Israel, the world, and the moderates and pragmatists on the Palestinian and Arab side must combat the terrorists Hamas, to push it in a corner, and isolate it and in so doing restore the possibility of a return to the negotiations and the idea of two nation-states,” Livni said.
Abbas, in an address from Saudi Arabia carried on Palestinian TV, also vowed not to resort to arms or allow Palestinians to launch another uprising, or intifada, against Israel.
“It is in our interest to have security coordination with Israel because that would help protect us,” he said. “I say it frankly, we will never have another intifada — that would destroy us,” he added.
Abbas’s statements drew fierce criticism from Hamas officials, one of whom, Salah Bardawil, said the address was “similar to the statements issued by the IDF Spokesman.”
“President Abbas’s statements on security coordination with Israel are unjustified, harmful to Palestinian reconciliation… and a psychological blow to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners suffering a slow death in the occupation’s jails,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
In light of the ongoing crisis, the Palestinian Authority has slowed progress in the reconciliation process with Hamas that led to the establishment earlier this month of a Palestinian unity government.
Following statements made Monday by a senior Palestinian official, who told The Times of Israel that if it was proved that Hamas was behind the kidnappings the PA would reevaluate the unity pact, the Palestinian government convened on Tuesday and decided that it would continue to refrain from paying the salaries of former Hamas government officials, some 40,000 in number.
The salaries issue was a focus of tension between Hamas and Fatah after the reconciliation agreement was signed, and banks in the Gaza Strip were closed for six days after the Hamas workers’ salaries were not transferred.
Additionally, Fatah has stopped holding deliberations and meetings of the committee that is to examine the integration of Hamas into PLO institutions, and has decided not to convene the Palestinian parliament, which was to occur in another three weeks’ time.
Hamas had asked that the parliament be convened in order to appoint former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh to the post of Palestinian parliament chairman, which would turn him into Abbas’s successor were Abbas unable to continue in the position of PA president.