Bennett says PA security cooperation to continue despite Fatah-Hamas unity deal

Statement comes after government says there will be no talks with Palestinians unless Hamas disarms

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on October 15, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Israeli security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority should and will continue, even under a Palestinian unity government that includes the terror organization Hamas, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday.

“I totally support all the humanitarian measures in Gaza,” he said, “I support the continuation of security coordination over Judea and Samaria — it’s good for us and good for them,” Bennett, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party and is a  member of the security cabinet, told Army Radio.

Pressed on whether this applied to the Fatah-Hamas unity government due to start operating on December 1, he said, “As long as it serves the security of Israeli citizens, the answer is yes.”

His comments echoed the decision made in the security cabinet Tuesday to maintain security coordination while not supporting the unity government.

The security cooperation between Israel and the PA, in place for years despite near-frozen diplomatic ties, has been seen as critical for both Israel and Abbas’s Fatah faction to keep a lid on violence in the West Bank, particularly from the Hamas terror group.

On Thursday, Palestinian negotiators from rival Hamas and Fatah factions signed a reconciliation deal, ending a decade-long split following talks mediated by Egypt in Cairo, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calling it a “final” accord.

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad, right, and Saleh al-Arouri, left, of Hamas talk to journalists after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Under the reconciliation agreement, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority is to resume full control of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by December 1, according to a statement from Egypt’s government.

While agreeing to security coordination, though, Bennett said political negotiations with such a unity government were out of the question and would be akin to the US negotiating with a government based on the jihadist terror organization al-Qaeda.

He said the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar and the new deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri — the latter believed by Israel to have planned the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens in the West Bank in the summer of 2014 — were the “bin Ladens of Israel,” referring to Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, who was killed in an American raid in Pakistan in 2011.

“These are the bin Ladens of  Israel. This group has killed Israelis. If we don’t draw a red line, how can we expect the world to stand together to fight terror?”

Hamas representative Saleh al-Arouri speaks after signing a reconciliation deal with senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, during a short ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, October. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Hamas was continuing to dig attack tunnels into Israeli territory and to shoot at Israeli settlements near the Gaza border, he said. For this reason, the Palestinian Authority would become the same as Hamas if it joined the group in a unity government.

Bennett took credit for Tuesday’s security cabinet decision that it would not pursue peace talks with a Palestinian government that included Hamas unless Hamas agreed to renounce terrorism and recognizing the Jewish state.

He told Army Radio it was time for the government to now “totally adopt” the Right’s positions and extend Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank and Jordan Valley.

The Palestinian Authority brushed off the security cabinet’s decision, saying it would have “no bearing” on the implementation of the unity deal.

“What was agreed in Cairo, under the auspices of Egypt, is moving in the right direction toward ending division, and any Israeli remarks will not change the official Palestinian position to move forward,” said Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh in a statement carried on the PA’s official news site Wafa.

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