WASHINGTON/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday to “tear up” his pact with Hamas, saying Israel would not take part in peace talks with a Palestinian government backed by the group.
Netanyahu also said Abbas’ comments earlier Sunday denouncing the Holocaust could not be reconciled with his alliance with Hamas.
“President Abbas has to decide whether he wants a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel. He cannot speak out of both sides of his mouth. He cannot embrace Hamas and say that he wants peace with Israel,” Netanyahu said on the U.S. television program “Face the Nation,” according to a transcript provided by the CBS network.
“In fact, what I say to him very simply is this: President Abbas, tear up your pact with Hamas. Recognize the Jewish state. Make peace. I hope you do that. But you can’t have Hamas and peace with Israel.”
Israel suspended U.S.-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians Thursday after Abbas announced a unity pact with the rival Palestinian group. Hamas is viewed by the United States, the European Union and Israel as a terrorist organization.
In an appearance on the CNN program “State of the Union,” Netanyahu reiterated that Israel would not negotiate with a government backed by Hamas.
Apparently seeking to build bridges, Abbas said in a statement released Sunday that the Nazi Holocaust was “the most heinous crime” against humanity in modern times.
Abbas, whose words coincided with Israel’s annual remembrance day for those who died in the Holocaust, has condemned the mass killings of Jews in World War II before and challenged allegations, stemming from a 1983 book he authored, he is a Holocaust denier.
“President Abbas can’t have it both ways. He can’t say the Holocaust is terrible but at the same time embrace those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said on CNN.
“I think what President Abbas is trying to do is to placate Western public opinion that understands that he delivered a terrible blow to the peace process,” he said.
The peace negotiations, championed by Kerry, were facing an April 29 deadline, with little public sign the two sides were making progress toward a deal to extend the talks.
Netanyahu said in the TV interview that he had negotiated in earnest for nine months, working closely with Kerry, and “we made some significant progress.”
Palestinian officials have blamed Netanyahu for the peace impasse, noting he failed to carry out a pledged release of Palestinian prisoners and citing Israeli announcements of further construction in settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu has said Abbas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state blocked progress in talks aimed at ending decades of conflict.
The Palestinian unity accord followed seven years of failed reconciliation attempts after Hamas overtook the running of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Abbas in 2007.
The agreement envisages forming a Palestinian government of nonpolitical “technocrats” in five months and elections six months later.
European Union Sunday urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, saying U.S. efforts to broker peace must not be allowed to “go to waste.”
“Negotiations are the best way forward,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in response to the breakdown last week in months of efforts by Washington to keep the two sides talking.
“The extensive efforts deployed in recent months must not go to waste,” Ashton’s statement added.