Netanyahu: Israel Won't Cut Ties With Palestinian Authority Over Unity Deal With Hamas

Netanyahu tells security cabinet that Israel will not try to thwart the reconciliation pact, but will not recognize it either ■ Told Egypt, U.S. that deal doesn't change Israel's stance regarding peace talks

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.Credit: Abir Sultan/AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

At a meeting of the security cabinet on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would not recognize or accept the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, but will neither try to prevent its implementation nor break off relations with the Palestinian Authority. This was related by three sources with inside knowledge, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

These sources said that Netanyahu told the members of the inner cabinet that if the agreement is implemented and individuals from the PA return to head civilian government offices in the Gaza Strip and to staff crossing points on the Gaza border, Israel should cooperate with them because it serves the state’s interest in preventing a humanitarian crisis and improving the living conditions in the Strip.

Nevertheless, Netanyahu said he had clarified to Egypt and the U.S. that the agreement did not change anything for Israel in regard to negotiations with the Palestinians. He added that his message to Cairo and Washington was that he rejected the argument according to which the reconciliation, in putting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in charge of the Gaza Strip as well as the West Bank, will facilitate the resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

A senior U.S. official said in response that the Trump administration is following the implementation of the reconciliation agreement and was in contact with Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians.

The two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the security cabinet was the first scheduled discussion of the agreement, which was signed on Thursday. When it ended, it was decided to reconvene on Tuesday to give all members a chance to speak.

In Tuesday’s discussion, the inner cabinet is expected to set Israeli policy on the reconciliation. Education Minister Naftali Bennett has said in recent days that Israel should sever ties with the Palestinians. But one of the sources said the general inclination is to adopt Netanyahu’s position of refusing to recognize the agreement without taking action to scuttle it, and at the same time continuing its coordination with the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu’s attitude to this accord is very different from his approach to the reconciliation reached between Fatah and Hamas in April 2014, which collapsed a few months later. In 2014 the security cabinet decided to freeze negotiations with the PA and sever contacts between Israeli cabinet members and their Palestinian counterparts. After then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni met with Abbas in London despite the cabinet resolution, Netanyahu and his aides attacked her conduct.

Last week, after the agreement was announced, Israel responded with restraint. The Prime Minister’s Office refrained from attacking it, striking a diplomatic tone in referring to it: “Israel will monitor developments on the ground and act accordingly,” the PMO said in a statement. It added that Israel opposes any reconciliation that does not honor international agreements and the conditions of the Quartet, “first and foremost ... recognizing Israel and disarming Hamas.”