TEL AVIV — Reactions to the announcement that rival Palestinian factions have achieved an agreement to establish a unity government are surprisingly muted, both in Israel and in Palestine.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Israeli Minister of Intelligence Dan Meridor said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “will have to decide if he wants to pursue peace negotiations with us or if he wants to take the risk of sitting in a government with terrorists.”
But, he seemed to express a region-wide calmness and wait-and-see attitude when he added that ongoing meetings between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will not immediately be banned, and that “we’ll have to see what comes following the announcement made in Qatar.”
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Abbas and Khaled Mashal, leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, that is classified as a terrorist organization by the West, announced a still-fluid agreement that would establish an interim government to be led by Abbas, with elections to be held in the coming months. Mashal’s role was not immediately specified. Any formal role for Mashal, universally banned in the Western political world, could prove a major stumbling block for the implementation of the agreement, and could, potentially, provoke the suspension of American aid upon which the Palestinian government depends for its survival.
Meridor appeared to be significantly more exercised by the ongoing strife in Syria and unrest in Egypt, “our direct neighbors,” than by any development within the Palestinian Authority. He refused to speculate about the possible fate of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad but had strong words regarding Russia and China’s UN blockage of international sanctions in Syria.
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“The United States has expressed its ‘disgust’ with Russia and China and I can only add my own. But it would not be prudent for any Israeli statesman to speculate about the direction of the revolt in Syria,” he said.
A few hours after the Palestinian unity agreement was announced, to little if any reaction within Palestine, where the current leadership, including Prime Minister Salam Fayad, does not yet know its fate, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement.
“I would like to say a few words about what was signed in Doha. Hamas is a terrorist organization that strives to destroy Israel, and which is supported by Iran. I have said many times in the past that the Palestinian Authority must choose between an alliance with Hamas and peace with Israel,” he said in a press release.
“Hamas and peace do not go together…. I say to Abu Mazen: You cannot hold the stick by both ends. It is either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel; you cannot have it both ways.”