Palestinians to Talk Unity as Jewish State Plan Advances

Negotiators for the Fatah and Hamas factions will begin talks this week on reestablishing a joint Palestinian government as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushes a law to define Israel as a Jewish state.

The internal Palestinian negotiations, which triggered the suspension of U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel, are set to start today or tomorrow in the Gaza Strip, Hamas official Musa Abu Marzouk said yesterday. Netanyahu said Israel needs to protect its Jewish nature if a Palestinian state is ever to be established on its borders.

“The state of Israel extends full civil rights to all its citizens, but it is the nation-state of only one people -- the Jewish people -- and not of any other,” Netanyahu said in remarks to his cabinet broadcast today on Israel Radio.

Peace talks initiated in July by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry broke down last month in part over Netanyahu’s insistence that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a step rejected by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu said Israel wouldn’t continue negotiations after Abbas renewed reunification talks with Hamas.

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said yesterday his nation may consider talks with Hamas if it accepts principles for peace negotiations set by international mediators known as the Quartet that include renouncing terrorism. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.

“As long as they don’t accept the Quartet principles, they are nothing but a terror organization,” Lapid said in an e-mailed statement from his office. “If they will, that is something else.”

Report Clarification

The statement was issued to clarify a Wall Street Journal report that cited him as saying talks with Hamas may be possible if the movement recognizes Israel.

“The PLO used to be a terrorist organization,” the paper reported Lapid as saying, referring to a previous change of approach by the Israeli government when it decided to negotiate in the 1990s with Yasser Arafat and the group he headed, the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Quartet precepts -- renouncing violence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and honoring past agreements between the sides -- were set out by the United Nations, U.S., EU and Russia. Israel said it wouldn’t talk to any Palestinian government that depends on or includes Hamas.

Unity Government

Hamas yesterday said it expected to begin talks with Abbas’s Fatah party on a transitional unity government this week. Abu Marzouk told a press conference in Gaza that Azzam el-Ahmad, head of Fatah’s delegation for reconciliation talks and a member of the PLO’s central committee, plans to come to Gaza as early as today.

Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmi said that talks with Hamas in Gaza would probably start this week, though he couldn’t confirm a date. He said Abbas plans to meet Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal in Doha tomorrow.

Abbas has said that a government with Hamas would abide by past peace agreements and international requirements.

Abu Marzouk said yesterday that “Hamas will never recognize Israel and our armed wing will not drop their guns.”

The new government, he said, will be temporary and only offer services. “It has a mission and this mission will end when a date for holding the elections is set up and agreed upon,” he said.

Personal Opinion

Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said Israel’s Lapid was probably expressing his own opinion on negotiations and cautioned against viewing the comments cited by the Wall Street Journal as a trial balloon.

“The clarification issued by his spokespeople that he is open to talks only if Hamas conforms with Quartet requirements is the Israeli government position,” he said.

On his Facebook page yesterday, Lapid answered a comment on his reported remarks by saying they were taken out of context and that he would agree to talks with Hamas only if it recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and agrees to all previous peace accords.

Kerry said on May 1 that he will speak to both sides “at an appropriate moment” to remind them of the progress they made over more than eight months of talks.

“Nothing is impossible,” Spyer said of the potential revival of negotiations. Still, he said the likelihood of Hamas accepting Quartet conditions is quite low and only a collapse of the Palestinian reconciliation agreement would make renewed talks a “distinct possibility.”

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