Netanyahu: Abbas must choose between Israel and Hamas

Amid reports of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, PM says he hopes Palestinians opt for peace, even if ‘so far’ they haven’t

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in Jerusalem on April 23, 2014. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in Jerusalem on April 23, 2014. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash 90)

The Palestinian Authority can either make peace with Hamas or with Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday, warning PA President Mahmoud Abbas that a reported reconciliation deal with the terrorist organization ruling Gaza would mean the end of the current, US-mediated effort to negotiate a peace deal.

“Instead of moving into peace with Israel, he’s moving into peace with Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “He has to choose: Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so.”

During a meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said Israel was trying to extend peace negotiations with the Palestinians beyond their April 29 deadline, but blamed Abbas for “raising additional conditions” that he knows Jerusalem cannot accept.

Abbas told a group of Israeli journalists Tuesday that the Palestinians would agree to extend negotiations with Israel by nine months on the condition that Israel agreed to immediately commence discussing the borders of the future Palestinian state, and froze settlement construction, including in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu’s remarks echoed statements made Tuesday by Israeli officials who wished to remain anonymous. They said Abbas was laying down unacceptable terms in order to allow talks to fail without taking the blame.

“The meaning of all these things is that he’s not interested in peace,” one official was quoted by Ynet as saying. “Someone who wants peace does not present time after time conditions he knows Israel cannot accept.”

Abbas also said that Ramallah was still expecting the release of 30 pre-Oslo prisoners as part of the agreement to hold peace talks, and that he had rejected an Israeli demand to deport a number of them — some of whom hold Israeli citizenship.

Another Israeli official told AFP that settlement building in Jerusalem would not be frozen and that Israel had never agreed to discuss the border issue separately from other core issues.

Those include Palestinians refugees, the fate of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as a capital, security and mutual recognition.

“It is impossible to define borders before an agreement on the other issues,” the Israeli official said.

He also reiterated that Israel planned on expelling toward the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, or abroad, some of the last batch of prisoners that Abbas wants freed.

“This has been clearly explained to the Palestinians. Never has Israel committed not to carry out expulsions,” he said.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the hawkish Jewish Home party, said Abbas’s threat that the collapse of talks would lead to the dismantling of the PA were nothing new.

“We are hearing again and again the refrain of the same threat that if we don’t advance, if we don’t give him what he wants, then woe is us, he will dismantle the PA,” Bennett told a conference. “I suggest to Abbas, if you’re going to shoot, then shoot, don’t talk.”

Opposition head Isaac Herzog, however, put the blame on Netanyahu, saying he had released prisoners without getting to an advance in peace talks, hurting Israel in the long run.

“The time has come for Netanyahu to decide if he wants a Jewish state or a bi-national state,” Herzog wrote on his Facebook page.

AFP contributed to this report.

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