Netanyahu Says Abbas on ‘Damage Control’ After Hamas Link

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of engaging in “damage control” by denouncing the Holocaust after agreeing to unite with the Hamas militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction.

“President Abbas has to decide whether he wants a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel,” Netanyahu said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program yesterday. “He cannot speak out of both sides of his mouth.”

Abbas called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era” during a meeting with a visiting American rabbi, according to the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.

“Tear up your pact with Hamas,” Netanyahu told Abbas, in an interview on CNN yesterday. “Recognize the Jewish state. Come back to a real peace process.”

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority governs the West Bank, and Hamas governs the Gaza Strip. The U.S., Israel and Europe consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

By expressing sympathy for Holocaust victims, “I think what he’s trying to do is damage control,” Netanyahu said of Abbas.

Mideast peace talks that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sought to resuscitate are teetering on the brink of collapse. Negotiations reached an impasse this month after Israel failed to go through with a scheduled Palestinian prisoner release and announced construction plans in contested east Jerusalem. Palestinians responded by renewing their diplomatic campaign to broaden international recognition of a state of Palestine.

Talks Suspended

Israel said last week it will suspend the talks because of the Palestinian Authority’s reconciliation agreement with Hamas, announced on April 23. The unanimous decision by Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet may be the final blow to Kerry’s campaign to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, accused Netanyahu of using “flimsy excuses” to scuttle the peace talks.

“He’s trying to find ways out and demonizing the Palestinians,” Ashrawi said on CNN yesterday. Hamas doesn’t need to recognize Israel’s right to exist, as Netanyahu seeks, because Hamas isn’t involved in the peace negotiations, she said.

“The PLO is the body that represents the Palestinians,” Ashrawi said. “Nobody’s asking him to talk to Hamas or even the government,” she said of Netanyahu.

Kerry’s Effort

Kerry, who has been shepherding the talks since last July, declared earlier this month it’s time for a “reality check” on his peace mission if the parties themselves are “unwilling to take constructive steps.” He later told Congress that, while “unhelpful actions” on both sides contributed to the breakdown, Israel’s conduct precipitated it.

The unity deal between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the third such pact since 2011, is designed to end seven years of rival governments that emerged in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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

Kerry’s nine-month quest for a peace deal is on hold.

“I think we need to step back, let each side consider the alternatives, and then see if there’s a basis to move forward,” said Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program yesterday.

“We’re at a point where the parties need to figure out what’s next,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said April 25. “It is on them.”

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