Israel cancels talks, citing Hamas unity initiative

JERUSALEM – Israel suspended its involvement in peace talks Thursday after a Palestinian deal that would bring the militant Islamic group Hamas into a broader Palestinian government.

Israel’s decision, announced after a six-hour Cabinet meeting, also calls for imposing new sanctions on the Palestinian Authority.

“The government of Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas,” a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said, noting that the Cabinet decision was unanimous.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made “a pact with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel would not hold talks with the Palestinians as long as the unity initiative continued.

The sanctions to come include a previously announced Israeli plan to deduct Palestinian debts to Israeli companies from the tax revenue Israel collects for the frequently cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

The reconciliation agreement and Israeli reaction were only the latest in a long chain of events that had stymied the 9-month-old peace effort, which was largely driven by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry. Even before Israel’s announcement, prospects were slim for extending talks beyond their deadline next week.

In Washington, U.S. officials said they would leave it to the parties to decide whether to continue the talks. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration’s peace envoy, Martin Indyk, remained in the Mideast.

“It’s always been up to the parties to make the choices needed to pursue a path to peace,” she said.

Kerry spoke with Abbas on Thursday morning, emphasizing his disappointment over the unity deal with Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist group. He reminded Abbas that Washington would deal with Hamas only if the group recognized Israel, forswore violence and agreed to observe previous Palestinian commitments on relations with Israel.

Kerry was expected to speak with Netanyahu later Thursday.


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