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Israel halts Middle East peace talks over Hamas deal

© Photo: AFP Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Israeli parliament member Hilik Bar on April 16

Video by Kethevane GORJESTANI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-25

Israel said on Thursday it was suspending Middle-East peace talks in response to a unity deal struck between the Palestinian leadership and the Islamist group Hamas, which does not recognise the right of Israel to exist.

"The cabinet has unanimously decided that the Israeli government will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terror organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel," a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read.

"In addition, Israel will take a number of measures in response to the PA's (Palestinian Authority's) unilateral moves."

Israel’s decision would appear to bring to an end a nine-month initiative backed by US Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate a peace agreement in the Middle East.

The negotiating period is scheduled to end next Tuesday, though the sides had been trying to agree to an extension.

Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, announced the unity pact with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Wednesday. Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to the Western-backed Abbas in 2007.

The deal envisions a unity government within five weeks and national elections six months later.

Earlier, local media reports said that Israel would also impose economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in response to the unity deal.

Netanyahu: Future talks possible

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to leave open a window for future negotiations if Abbas reversed course or reconciliation with Hamas fell through.

"I hope (Abbas) changes his mind," Netanyahu said in an interview with American TV station MSNBC following Israel’s decision to suspend the talks.

"I will be there in the future if we have a partner that is committed to peace. Right now we have a partner that has just joined another partner committed to our destruction."

But even before Israel’s announcement on Thursday, the peace talks already looked to be in trouble.

Negotiations nearly broke down earlier this month when Israel refused to carry out the last of four waves of prisoner releases, demanding that Palestinians first commit to negotiate after the April deadline.

Abbas responded by signing 15 international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war and occupations. Israel condemned the move as a unilateral step towards statehood.

Nevertheless, Kerry, who persuaded the sides to resume talks last July after a nearly five-year break, said on Thursday he remained hopeful of bringing Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table.

Speaking to journalists in Washington, Kerry said talks could still go on if both sides make compromises.

The US “will never give up our hope or our commitment for the possibilities of peace”, Kerry said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-04-24

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