Decide between peace with Hamas or Israel: Israeli PM to Abbas

Jerusalem/Gaza: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Wednesday reports of growing communication between the rival Palestinian Hamas and Fatah movements, demanding that the Palestinian president choose between peace with Hamas or with Israel.

“Instead of moving into peace with Israel, (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) is moving into peace with Hamas,” Netanyahu said following a meeting with Austrian Foreign Affairs Minister Sebastian Kurz in Jerusalem.

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“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,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

He accused Abbas of foiling progress in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, according to Xinhua.

“We are trying to re-launch the negotiations with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said. “Every time we reach that point, Abu Mazen (Abbas) stacks on additional condition which he knows that Israel cannot give.”

Netanyahu’s statements come amid reports that the West Bank’s ruling Fatah faction and the Gaza-governing Hamas faction were preparing to implement a historic deal after seven years of strife between the factions.

While Israel has been negotiating with the Fatah-governed Palestinian Authority, it has considered Hamas a staunch militant enemy and the two were involved in war-time campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Hamas has objected to the peace talks and to acknowledging Israel in the past.

“Netanyahu’s criticism is totally rejected,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told Xinhua. “The national reconciliation is a national priority and it has nothing to do with ongoing peace talks with Israel.”

He added that peace cannot be achieved without Palestinian national unity.

The Hamas movement and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party agreed Wednesday to form a unity government and hold general elections, a senior Palestinian official said.

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the delegation in talks with Hamas, told Xinhua that a transitional unity government would be declared within five weeks and the general elections will be held within six months.

“Progress was made in forming the unity government, holding the elections and restructuring the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO),” Barghouti said. “This is what was agreed upon in the reconciliation meetings held in Gaza.”

On Tuesday, a high-ranking PLO delegation, headed by Fatah leader Azzam el-Ahmad and including four senior officials, arrived in Gaza for talks on implementing two reconciliation agreements reached in Cairo in 2011 and Qatar in 2012.

Hamas leader Ismail Haneya and Fatah’s el-Ahmad said they did not intend to start a new dialogue but rather were meeting to find a mechanism to implement previous reconciliation agreements.

“The atmosphere of the talks, which began Tuesday night, is very much positive and there is an opportunity to achieve a breakthrough in all issues that are under discussion,” Barghouti said.

Earlier Wednesday, Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas leader, also described the talks as “very positive” in a press statement.

In the meantime, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on the verge of collapse, as the April 29 deadline approaches. Both sides have met in recent weeks to get the talks back on track and extend the negotiations until the end of the year.

Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni and Erekat have met to salvage the peace talks.

However, an Israeli official source told Xinhua that there was no breakthrough in the talks and there were still many gaps between the two sides, adding that the sides were to meet again soon.

Peace talks between the parties started in July last year.