ISRAEL’S SECURITY CABINET met today to weigh its retaliation to a unity deal struck between the Palestinian leadership and the Hamas rulers of Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted angrily to yesterday’s agreement between the rival factions accusing Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas of choosing “Hamas, not peace”.
Public radio said ministers were likely to announce fresh retaliatory measures on top of a raft of financial sanctions unveiled this month when the Palestinians applied to join 15 international treaties.
They were not expected to order a complete halt to US-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians, however, despite the announcement by a Netanyahu aide of the cancellation of a scheduled meeting for last night, the broadcaster said.
Netanyahu’s office described the deal between Abbas and Hamas, which opposes all peace talks with Israel, as “very serious”.
Under the rapprochement between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) — internationally recognised as the sole representative of the Palestinian people — and the Islamist Hamas which rules Gaza, the sides agreed to form a “national consensus” government within weeks.
“By tying itself to Hamas, the Palestinian leadership is turning its back on peace,” a Netanyahu aide said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that in his opinion an agreement was “impossible” while there is an alliance involving Hamas.
Israel already announced on April 10 that it was freezing the transfer of some €80 million ($111 million) in taxes it collects on behalf of Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which account for some two-thirds of its revenues.
The deal between the Palestinian leadership and Hamas came as the US-led peace talks teetered on the brink of collapse just days before their scheduled April 29 conclusion.
In Ramallah, Abbas was set to begin consultations on the formation of a “national consensus government” he would head, comprised of independent members.
Abbas says he will not extend the negotiations unless Israel agrees to a freeze on all settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, and frees a group of Arab prisoners who had been earmarked for release this month.
He has also demanded the two sides launch straight into negotiations on the future borders of the Palestinians’ promised state.
Israel has dismissed all three conditions as unacceptable.
Jibril Rajub, a Fatah leader, told AFP that “the next national consensus government will proclaim loud and clear that it accepts the Quartet’s conditions”.
The Middle East Quartet demands that Hamas recognise Israel and existing agreements between it and the PLO, and renounce armed struggle.
Washington warned Wednesday that the deal between the Palestinian leadership and Hamas threatened to scupper any chance of rescuing the talks.
When Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the European Union and the United States said they would deal with a government in which it participated only if it renounced violence and recognised Israel and past peace deals.
Washington reaffirmed that position on Wednesday.