JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel canceled a planned meeting with Palestinian peace negotiators after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas signed a unity accord.
The Obama administration sided with Israel in its reaction, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki calling the timing of the accord “disappointing” and saying it could scuttle a U.S. bid to resume its negotiations.
“It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist,” said Psaki, who noted that Secretary of State John Kerry had consulted with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the matter.
Under the agreement signed Wednesday, the factions are to form a unity government in five weeks, according to reports citing Palestinian officials. Fatah and Hamas representatives met from Tuesday to early Wednesday morning in Gaza.
“I said this morning that Abbas must choose between peace with Israel and the unity agreement with Hamas, a murderous terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” Netanyahu said Wednesday in response to the agreement signing. “Abu Mazen [Abbas] could have chosen peace with Israel instead of peace with a murderous terror organization. Tonight, while talks are ongoing to extend peace talks, he chose Hamas … He who chooses Hamas does not want peace.”
Fatah and Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union, had formed a unity government in 2006 that lasted about one year.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday in response to the new agreement that it would be impossible for Fatah to have peace with Israel while allying with Hamas.
“If Abbas signs a unity government agreement with Hamas, he is signing the end of negotiations between Israel and the P.A.,” Liberman said.
Psaki said Hamas must recognize Israel and renounce terrorism in order to gain a role in talks.
“Hamas would need to abide by these principles in order to be part of the government,” she said.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee, raised the possibility of cutting funds to the Palestinian Authority based on laws that ban funding to terrorist groups.
“The Administration must halt aid to the Palestinian Authority and condition any future assistance as leverage to force Abu Mazen to abandon this reconciliation with Hamas and to implement real reforms within the P.A.,” she said.
The negotiations are scheduled to end on Tuesday. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have met several times in recent days in an attempt to extend the talks, which started last summer.