Israel says no talks if Hamas in Palestinian government
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Tuesday it would not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that includes a role for the militant Hamas group, laying down a significant potential roadblock to already complicated Palestinian reconciliation efforts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said there would be no talks with the Palestinians unless Hamas agrees to a series of conditions it is unlikely to accept, including recognizing Israel and agreeing to disarm.
The announcement came as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah government is in talks with Hamas over ending a 10-year split.
Under Egyptian auspices, the Palestinian factions last week announced a preliminary agreement and have formed committees to sort out unresolved issues, most notably who will control Hamas’ massive weapons arsenal.
While agreeing to turn over all governing responsibilities to Fatah, Hamas has said control of its weapons is not up for negotiation. That would leave Hamas with significant behind-the-scenes influence over Palestinian affairs, even if does not have an official role in the next government.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’ forces in 2007, leaving the Palestinians divided between two governments. Previous reconciliation attempts have failed, and there is no guarantee that the current round of talks will succeed.
Netanyahu’s stance matched past demands placed on Hamas by Israel and the international community, that it renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
But Tuesday’s statement added some new conditions, including that Abbas’ government continue a crackdown on Hamas militants in the West Bank, that Hamas sever ties with Iran, and that it return the remains of two Israeli soldiers and two living Israeli civilians believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said reconciliation is a top Palestinian interest. “Any Israeli remarks will not change the official Palestinian position to move forward with the reconciliation efforts to achieve the hopes and aspirations of our people in ending the division,” he said in a statement Tuesday night.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “this is an unacceptable Israeli interference in Palestinian internal affairs.”
Abbas seeks an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel captured the territories in 1967, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
The last round of peace talks broke down in 2014. President Donald Trump’s envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has been shuttling throughout the region in search of a formula to restart talks. His office had no immediate comment on Netanyahu’s announcement.
There was no immediate comment from Egypt.