Israel suspends peace talks in response to Fatah-Hamas deal
Economic sanctions also to be imposed on Palestinians
Israeli soldiers and border police arrest a group of blindfolded Palestinians in the West Bank village of Der Samet, near Hebron, following house to house searches on April 24th. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA
Israel has suspended peace talks with the Palestinians in response to the reconciliation agreement signed on Wednesday between Fatah and Hamas.
The unanimous decision, taken at a six-hour meeting yesterday of Israel’s security cabinet, also included unspecified economic sanctions that will be implemented against the Palestinians.
The punitive measures were expected to include the withholding of tax collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
“Instead of choosing peace, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organisation that calls for Israel’s destruction,” Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said. “Abbas formed an alliance with an organisation whose covenant calls for Muslims to wage jihad against Jews.”
Israel’s decision came less than a week before the end of the nine-month deadline set by US secretary of state John Kerry for the sides to clinch an elusive peace deal. With little progress made during the negotiations which started last summer, it was clear that no agreement would be reached this month.
However, Mr Kerry had been working frantically to get the sides to agree to a formula to extend the talks.
Yesterday’s decision by Israel leaves open the door for the resumption of peace talks if the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation efforts falter.
The agreement signed between Mr Abbas’s Fatah movement, which controls the West Bank, and leaders of the Islamist Hamas, which rules Gaza, calls for a unity government to be formed within five weeks, paving the way for presidential and parliamentary elections later this year.
However, key details were left unresolved, including the fate of the Hamas security forces in Gaza.
Previous unity agreements between the bitter rivals were never implemented.
Immediately after the signing of the reconciliation agreement, Israel cancelled a session of talks with the Palestinians that had been scheduled for Wednesday.
The United States criticised the Fatah-Hamas agreement, saying it would have to reconsider its aid to the Palestinians if the deal went ahead, on the grounds that Washington views Hamas as a terrorist organisation. In contrast to the US, the European Union welcomed the unity deal, but stressed that the most important thing was to continue the peace talks.
“The EU’s top priority is that the current talks continue beyond April 29th,” said a spokesman for EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton. “The EU has consistently called for intra-Palestinian reconciliation behind Mr Abbas”, saying such an understanding was “an important element for the unity of a future Palestinian state and for reaching a two-state solution.”
Hamas has failed to meet any of the three conditions set by the quartet (comprising the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations): recognition of Israel; renunciation of violence; and adherence to diplomatic agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority would consider “all options” in response to Israel’s decision.
“The priority now for the Palestinians is reconciliation and national unity,” he said.