Palestinian unity deal gives Netanyahu new line of attack
In upcoming visits to the US and Europe, Israel's prime minister is likely to argue against UN recognition of Palestinian statehood now that Hamas is joining Fatah at the helm.
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"It will be easier now for Israel to block a unilateral Palestinian state, since the West will find it difficult to accept a state in which Hamas, as an active terror organization, is a key element," wrote Guy Bechor, a Middle East analyst, who adds that the deal could also make Abbas appear as less willing or able to maintain peace. "This agreement reveals Abu Mazen’s 'peace intentions,' even before there is a state. It proves what this entity will look like, even before it has arisen. This is a precious gift for our diplomacy."Skip to next paragraph
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But on the flip side, the Europeans "really want to negotiate with Hamas," says Shimon Shiffer, a commentator for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot. "Even in Israel there are those who think we should look around and look for channels to Hamas. They are not going to disappear."
Would unity government negotiate with Israel?
The deal, announced last night and due to be signed in the coming few days, calls for an interim government before elections can be held within a year for a new parliament and a new president. Hamas will continue to control Gaza and Fatah will rule the West Bank, continuing the status quo since their split in 2007. Observers have cautioned that the thorniest points of dispute between the two remain unresolved.
Netanyahu will assail a unity accord as giving Hamas and opportunity to expand from Gaza to the West Bank with an ideology opposing Israel’s existence. On Wednesday he pressed the Palestinian Authority to choose between peace with Israel or Hamas.
On Thursday, Israeli President Shimon Peres backed that up, calling the reconciliation a "façade" that would not bring peace.
Mr. Abbas responded that he would continue to push for peace negotiations even during a powersharing partnership with Hamas, and that Fatah would take the lead role in peace talks. Prominent Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar, however, said a transitional government wouldn’t negotiate with Israel. And Israel's inner security cabinet decided today that Israel will not negotiate with a Hamas-Fatah unity government.
The accord is also likely to figure prominently as a target in Netanyahu’s speech in May before a joint session of the US Congress. He is expected to unveil an Israeli peace initiative that would serve as a carrot for the Palestinians to abandon a drive for UN recognition in September and return to the peace table.
Should Abbas choose to accept, Netanyahu could press Abbas to get Hamas to renounce violence and accept Israel, says Mr. Shiffer. But the reconciliation deal with Hamas is likely to cause a deterioration in the already strained ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
One Israeli cabinet minister said in an interview with Israel Radio that in the event of a unity government, Israel would have to stop security cooperation with the PA in the West Bank, which Israeli military officers have credited with the drastic reduction in attacks against Israelis in recent years.