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Israel skeptical about Palestinian detente, Hamas disarmament

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony marking 50 years since Israel captured the West Bank and other territories in the 1967 Mideast war, in Gush Etzion settlement in the West Bank, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017.
AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov
The current reconciliation effort is seen as the furthest the two sides have gone to make amends

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday laid out Israel's conditions for accepting the reconciliation deal between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, as Israeli ministers made their first official responses to Egypt-brokered rapprochement.

"To those who want to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very simple," Netanyahu said at a meeting of his Likud party "[they must] recognize the State of Israel, dismantle the military wing of Hamas, sever the connection with Iran ,which calls for our destruction, and so on."

"We expect anyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and of course to recognize a Jewish state," the prime minister continued, "and we are not prepared to accept imaginary appeasement in which the Palestinian side supposedly reconciles at the expense of our existence."

Over recent weeks Fatah -- which rules the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank -- and Hamas, which controls Gaza, have engaged in a spurt of activity seen as the furthest the two sides have gone to make amends since their split amid a near-civil war in 2006-7.

The PA has signed peace deals with Israel, but Hamas was not party to them and does not recognize Israel's right to exist.

Netanyahu's words of warning came just hours after the Palestinian prime minister, Fatah's Rami Hamdallah, entered the coastal enclave to attend a meeting of the PA cabinet.

Hamas disarmament


The Israeli prime minister's comments touch on a simmering debate between the rival factions over Hamas' trove of weapons that threatens to imperil the fragile progress towards a comprehensive unity government.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who on Monday refused to entertain the idea of Hamas -- a proscribed terror organization in the United States and European Union -- retaining its armed Iz al-Din al-Qassam brigades.

"I won’t accept the reproduction of the Hezbollah experience in Lebanon," Abbas said in an interview with Egyptian TV, insisting on "full control" of all ministries, borders, and security affairs in the Strip.

In the interview on Monday night Abbas said there would be "one state, one system, one law and one weapon" -- in an apparent reference to Hamas's military wing.

Hamas officials reject the possibility of disarming.

The deputy head of Hamas’ political wing, Dr. Moussa Abu Marzouk, has said that the group's military wing is not up for discussion.

He told Haaretz last week that Hamas' weapons are "intended for the defense of the Palestinian people, and as long as the Palestinian people are under occupation, the weapons will continue to be ready for any scenario."

'Blame game'

Ariel Hamroni/Ministry of Defense

Later on Thursday Israeli defense minister Avigdor Liberman weighed in, claiming that the two sides were only sticking with the deal so far in order to blame each other later for its demise.

"The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is a blame game - this what we call an attempt to blame each other on why it is not successful," he said, citing the public disagreement between Abbas and Hamas over the later retaining its weapons.

Echoing his prime minister and party leader, Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also took a dim view of the Palestinian detente, branding it as a public relations exercise aimed at "laundering" Hamas' "terrorist character."

"Abu Mazen's [Mahmoud Abbas] intentions will be examined by actions - the cessation of payments to terrorists and the dismantling of Hamas' military wing - and not by empty declarations," he said in a statement.

Israel has fought three wars with Hamas since 2008.

'The whole world is waiting'


Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said Palestinian reconciliation could be an "opportunity" for wider regional peace, and called for global support for the initiative.

"The whole world is waiting for your efforts to achieve reconciliation among the Palestinian people and appreciates your determination to address all obstacles," Sisi said in a pre-recorded speech addressing the two main Palestinian movements on Tuesday.

"There is a chance to realise peace in the region, providing all the parties are united."

The video was played as Egyptian intelligence head Khaled Fawzy met with Hamas and Palestinian Authority leaders in the Gaza Strip.

Cairo has been the key backer in attempts to bring the two Palestinian sides together, and Sisi called for more support.

"I am confident the major world powers, when they see the Palestinian parties are fully aware of the nature of this phase and the importance of dialogue to achieve the goal of peace, will help to realise this peace," he added.

(Staff with agencies)


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