By Josef Federman / Associated Press
JERUSALEM — Israel broke off Mideast peace talks and brought the U.S.-brokered process to the brink of collapse Thursday, protesting a reconciliation agreement between the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and the militant group Hamas, the sworn enemy of the Jewish state.
Israel’s Security Cabinet made the decision during a marathon emergency meeting convened to discuss the new Palestinian deal. The rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah announced the reconciliation plan Wednesday, meant to end a seven-year rift.
Israel objects to any participation in Palestinian politics by Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and other attacks over the past two decades.
In a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, the government said it would not hold negotiations with a government “backed by Hamas.”
“Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” the statement said, referring to a name Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also known by.
The statement said Israel also would respond to Abbas’s recent decision to join 15 international conventions “with a series of steps,” language that typically refers to financial sanctions against the Palestinians.
Despite Israel’s decision, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused to declare the negotiations over and said the U.S. is “still making the effort.”
Even with the tough stance, Netanyahu left the door open to salvaging negotiations, which are set to expire next Tuesday.
“He still has the opportunity to reverse course, to go to the right direction, to abandon this pact with Hamas,” Netanyahu told U.S. broadcaster NBC. “I hope he does it. Because if we encounter a Palestinian leadership and a Palestinian government that is ready to pursue genuine peace negotiations, we’re going to be there.”
Even Israeli hard-liners concede that reaching a deal with Abbas alone would fall short of making peace with all Palestinians. And yet, any attempt at Palestinian reconciliation is opposed by Israel because of Hamas violence.
Abbas took a big gamble in approaching Hamas. The U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group, and could conceivably cut off some of the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid they give the Palestinians each year in response.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s forces in 2007, and the Islamic group’s control of the area remains a major obstacle to any future peace deal.