Abbas Offers Holocaust Condolences as Israel Denounces Pact

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” in modern history, offering condolences to victims’ families at a time when distrust between his government and Israel is running deep.

Abbas’s remarks were reported on the eve of Israel’s official Holocaust remembrance and days after he reached an agreement to govern jointly with Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip and whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of grandstanding and said he must choose between peace with Israel or an alliance with the Holocaust-denying Hamas.

“What happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era,” the official Palestinian Wafa news agency cited Abbas as telling visiting American Rabbi Marc Schneier. “He expressed his sympathy with the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed by the Nazis,” Wafa reported.

Netanyahu scoffed at Abbas’s remarks, released as Israel prepared for its annual commemoration of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

“Instead of issuing statements designed to placate global public opinion, Abu Mazen needs to choose between the alliance with Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel and denies the Holocaust, and a true peace with Israel,” Netanyahu said, referring to Abbas by his nickname.

‘Additional Holocaust’

In remarks to his cabinet in Jerusalem, Netanyahu accused Hamas of attempting “to create an additional Holocaust by destroying the state of Israel.”

In an interview later today with CNN’s “State of the Union” program, he urged Abbas to “tear up your pact with Hamas, recognize the Jewish state, come back to a real peace process.”

Israel suspended U.S.-sponsored negotiations after the reconciliation pact -- the third since 2011 -- was announced April 23. Talks had already deadlocked weeks earlier, despite U.S. efforts to extend them beyond the nine months the sides agreed to in July, expiring April 29.

In a statement today, European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton urged both parties “to remain focused on negotiations and on the unprecedented benefits which peace can bring.”

Seven-Year Rift

The unity deal is designed to end seven years of rival governments that emerged in the West Bank and Gaza after Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, overran the coastal strip in June 2007.

Abbas has said a Palestinian unity government including Hamas would abide by the conditions the Quartet of international mediators -- the U.S., United Nations, EU and Russia -- set for Hamas to join negotiations: renouncing violence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and honoring past agreements between the sides.

At a briefing with foreign journalists today, Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that wasn’t enough: Hamas itself must accept those conditions before a Hamas-backed government can join peace negotiations, Bennett said.

“We will not negotiate with a government backed by Hamas, even if it’s a puppet government, a technocrat government,” Bennett said at a press briefing in Jerusalem. “If Hamas accepted the Quartet terms, that would be a different story.”

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