Barak: Israel Should Talk With Palestinian Unity Government Only if It Renounces Terror

Defense Minister admits he did not feel Fatah-Hamas reconciliation was likely, adding Palestinians officials did not expect a deal either.

Israel should negotiate with a planned new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian unity government only and if it renounces terror activities and recognizes Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio on Thursday.

The rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas came to a historic agreement on Wednesday, when they announced a decision to reconcile and form an interim government ahead of elections, after a four-year feud. Both sides hailed the agreement as a chance to start a fresh page in their national history.

Ehud Barak
Moti Milrod

The defense minister told the radio that Israel could resume negotiations and contacts with the newly formed interim unity government only if it "dismantles terror infrastructures, and recognizes Israel as well as the PLO's past agreements" with Israel.

Barak admitted that he had believed there was a low probability of the rival Palestinian factions reconciling their long-standing differences, adding that he felt Palestinian officials were also skeptical about the reconciliation effort's chance of success.

Earlier Thursday, hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that a reconciliation deal could result in a Hamas takeover of the currently PA-ruled West Bank.

Lieberman told Army Radio of his fears that Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, would eventually take over the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank as well, making use of Hamas activists freed by Fatah as part of the new agreement.

"One of the clauses of the agreement is the release of hundreds of Hamas prisoners from Palestinian jails, which would flood the West Bank with armed terrorists, and the IDF must prepare accordingly," Lieberman said.

He said that "the agreement between Hamas and Fatah was born out of panic," and speculated that the move was a reaction to the recent turmoil in much of the Middle East.

The foreign minister added that he felt Hamas had been placed under pressure by recent unrest in its key ally Syria, saying that Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal "sees his patron, Syrian President Bashar Assad, shooting up the mosques and is distressed by the riots."

"On the other side, [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas, who has been relying for years on ousted Egyptian President [Hosni] Mubarak is fears that the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas' parent group, will take power and he would lose his support," Lieberman said.

Regarding a possible backlash to the deal, Lieberman said he expected the international community to respond accordingly, saying: "This agreement crosses a red line, Hamas has been defined as a terrorist organization by the Quartet since 2003 in addition to the fact that it has always been known that no talks can be held with groups calling for Israel's destruction."