By HERB KEINON
Israel will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas unless the terrorist organisation changes fundamentally, the security cabinet announced on Tuesday.
This comes in the wake of the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement.
Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic negotiations have not been held in more than three years.
According to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office after the security cabinet meeting, Israel will not hold talks with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas unless it recognises Israel and stops terrorist activities, in accordance with Quartet principles established more than a decade ago.
In addition, the statement said Hamas must be disarmed, the bodies of Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizens held by Hamas must be returned, and the Palestinian Authority must assume full security control over the Gaza Strip — including at the border crossings where it must prevent the smuggling of arms into the coastal strip.
The other conditions set by the security cabinet for continued diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians are that it continue to thwart Hamas terrorist activity and the building of terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, that Hamas be cut off from Iran, and that funds and humanitarian supplies will flow into Gaza only through the PA and other internationally recognised mechanisms set up for this purpose.
The statement issued after the meeting — the second security cabinet meeting on this matter in consecutive days — contained the first operative decisions made by the government towards the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement reached earlier this month in Cairo.
Egypt was heavily involved in brokering the deal, and America said it hoped the accord would allow the PA to regain full control over Gaza.
This decision is in accordance with a security cabinet decision made in April 2014, the last time there were serious attempts at a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation pact.
At that time, the cabinet statement said it “unanimously decided that Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organisation that calls for Israel’s destruction. In addition, Israel will respond to unilateral Palestinian action with a series of measures”.
Tuesday’s statement, by contrast, did not mention any retaliatory measures that would be taken against the PA for the recent pact.
The security cabinet decision stopped short of what one of its members – Education Minister Naftali Bennett — publicly demanded in recent days: severing connection with the PA as a result of the pact, which he said turned the PA into a “terrorist authority.”
Nevertheless, Bennett issued a statement congratulating Netanyahu for adopting a decision that “sees the PA as a terrorist authority”, because any other decision would have given legitimacy to a terrorist organisation that works to destroy Israel.
Now, Bennett said, the government and the army will extract a price from Hamas and the PA for Hamas’s continued refusal to release the Israeli citizens and the bodies of the IDF soldiers they are holding in Gaza.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely also praised the cabinet decision, saying the PA chose “terror over peace, and there is a price for that”.
Hotovely said the PA could not play a “duplicitous game” of seeking international legitimacy and membership in international organisations while at the same time embracing a murderous terrorist organisation.
Both Fatah and Hamas on Tuesday night rejected the cabinet decision.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said: “The Israeli position won’t change the official Palestinian policy of reconciliation that results in the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital.”
Hamas called the cabinet decision “Israeli interference in internal Palestinian matters” and said the Palestinian reaction needs to be continuation toward stability and the success of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
n SYRIA has warned of “dangerous consequences” following an airstrike by Israel on a regime SA-5 anti-aircraft battery east of Damascus, after it fired a surface-to-air missile at Israeli jets.
Syria’s SANA state news agency reported that the Assad regime “warned of the dangerous repercussions of Israel’s repeated aggression attempts, stressing Syria’s determination to continue its war against the terrorist groups, Israel’s arm in the region.”
According to SANA, the Syrian air defence “directly hit one of the jets, forcing the enemy to retreat”, contradicting Israel’s claims that all planes had returned safely from the operation.
The SA-5 missile battery, which was stationed some 50 kilometres east of the Syrian capital, fired at the Israeli jets which were on a routine aerial reconnaissance flight in Lebanese airspace, IDF spokesman Brig-Gen Ronen Manelis stated.
Israel believes that the Syrians fired at the Israeli jets at 10am on Monday after thinking that they intended to attack. All Israeli aircraft returned safely to base and a few hours later responded by launching four missiles towards the same battery, destroying it.
“We see the Syrian regime as responsible and see these missiles as a clear Syrian provocation, and it will not be accepted,” Manelis stated, adding that while Israel has no intention of entering into the civil war in Syria, Israel will react to all provocations and is prepared for the possibility of retaliation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin netanyahu said: “Our policy is clear. Anyone who tries to harm us will be hit. Today they tried to hit our planes, which is unacceptable to us.”