Israel says it is halting negotiations with the Palestinians following their unity deal with the Hamas rulers of Gaza, as faltering US-backed peace talks approach their deadline.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the agreement between the rival factions as a move that “kills peace”, but senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat blamed the demise of the process on Israeli settlement activity.
On Wednesday, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – internationally recognised as the sole representative of the Palestinian people – and the Gaza Strip’s Islamist Hamas rulers signed a reconciliation agreement.
Under the deal, they agreed to form a “national consensus” government under Abbas within weeks.
Israel’s security cabinet announced in response on Thursday that it would “not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terror organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel,” and vowed “measures” in response but without elaborating.
Any new measures would follow a raft of financial sanctions unveiled this month when the Palestinians applied to join 15 international treaties.
“The pact with Hamas kills peace,” Netanyahu told NBC television shortly after the Israeli cabinet decision.
Netanyahu said the deal was signed “while Israel was making efforts to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians” and was “a direct continuation of the Palestinian recalcitrance to promote negotiations”.
But Erakat told AFP: “Netanyahu’s government has been asked for years to choose between peace and settlements and it chose settlements”.
He said the Palestinian leadership would “look into all options to respond to Israeli government decisions against the PA”.
The Palestinian unity deal came as Washington made last-ditch efforts to extend the talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
US envoy Martin Indyk has repeatedly met both sides to try to salvage the talks, and was to meet Abbas in Ramallah later on Thursday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was also set to talk to Abbas by phone after Washington said it was “disappointed” by the Palestinian deal.
In Ramallah, Abbas was due to begin consultations on forming a “national consensus government” of independent members that he would head.
Abbas says he will not extend the negotiations unless Israel agrees to freeze 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 that the two sides begin immediate negotiations on the future borders of the Palestinians’ promised state.
Israel has dismissed all three conditions as unacceptable.