Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel will be looking for alternative paths toward peace with the Palestinians, and insisted that he will not negotiate with any government that is backed by Hamas.
If a negotiated peace proves impossible because of the makeup of the Palestinian government, “then we will seek other ways,” Netanyahu told CNN. “I am not going to accept a stalemate. I won’t accept another Palestinian state that is an Iranian offshoot of Iran, firing missiles in our cities… But I do seek a two states for two peoples solution. If I can’t have it right away with this Palestinian government, then we will seek other ways.”
Netanyahu said that he told his cabinet earlier Sunday that Israel would “take time out now for reassessment” and try to figure out “alternative paths to peace.” The simplest way, however, to achieve peace was for Abbas to renounce the agreement with Hamas, he said.
He also left the door open for Hamas to moderate its views and recognize Israel, accept past agreement and renounce terror, though he said that was unlikely to occur.
On Thursday, Israel suspended peace talks in the wake of a Wednesday unity deal between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Hamas terror group.
Though Abbas has insisted the Palestinian leadership will continue to recognize Israel and renounce violence, Hamas said on Sunday it would never acknowledge the existence of Israel, rebuffing reports that it was considering the shift.
Speaking to CNN’s Candy Crowley, Netanyahu reiterated his stance that he would not negotiate with any government that is backed by Hamas, even though the Palestinian unity government would be headed by Abbas and adhere to previous agreements with Israel. “This is one of the most preeminent terrorist organizations of our time. And obviously the US abhors it, as we do, and nobody expects us to negotiate with a government that is backed by it.”
The prime minister rejected the argument that the new Palestinian government would be technocratic and not contain members of either Hamas nor Fatah, likening this to a mafia organization that places “more respectable people” in the front office, while the thugs sit in the back office. “We’re not going to buy this trick.”
“I call on President Abbas: Tear up your pact with Hamas. Recognize the Jewish state. Come back to a real peace process,” Netanyahu said.
Echoing comments from State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki last week, Netanyahu said, “The ball is in Abbas’s court.”
Netanyahu also reiterated his Sunday morning dismissal of a statement from Abbas recognizing the Holocaust as the “most heinous crime,” saying the Palestinian leader was doing “damage control.”
Netanyahu said he tried to “reconcile” Abbas’s statement with the fact that just a few days earlier Abbas’s Fatah group signed the pact with Hamas, an organization that “denies the Holocaust and openly calls for a new extermination of the six million Jews of Israel.”
“President Abbas can’t have it both ways. He can’t say the Holocaust was terrible but at the same time embrace those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people. I think what he’s probably trying to do is damage control.”
Abbas seeks to “placate Western opinion, which understands that he delivered a terrible blow to the peace process” by embracing Hamas.
“I think he’s trying to wiggle his way out of it,” Netanyahu said.
Speaking to CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Netanyahu characterized Abbas’s Holocaust statement as an attempt to “smooth over the fact that he made a terrible step away from peace.”
“You can say nice things … or even significant things about the Holocaust, but you can’t embrace those who embrace the Holocaust,” Netanyahu said.
Other Israeli officials Sunday seemed to leave the door rather more open to resuming talks.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, told reporters it was crucial to wait and see what sort of Palestinian government emerged.
“The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas was quite a disappointment… but we decided to wait and see what happens on the Palestinian side when a new government is created,” she told reporters, noting that the government on Thursday suspended rather than called off peace negotiations.
Livni, head of the dovish Hatnua party, ruled out any talks with Hamas and said the international community must demand that the emerging Palestinian leadership “adopt the requirements” of the Middle East peacemaking Quartet.
“I shall not conduct negotiations — direct or indirect — with Hamas,” she said.
The Quartet demands that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by existing agreements between Israel and the PLO.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, of the centrist Yesh Atid, also said it was too early to pronounce the negotiations dead.
“If Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions… it will not, in effect, be Hamas any longer and then there’ll be a basis for discussion,” he told Israeli Radio.
“We don’t see it at the moment, but we need to watch and wait and study what’s going on.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who has stubbornly opposed the US-led peace talks, ruled out any dialogue with groups that have taken part in anti-Israeli attacks.
“Hamas murders Jews, Fatah demands the release of the murderers of Jews. They worked together before and now they are continuing their collaboration,” said Bennett, of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party.