Thursday, April 28, 2011

Israel threatens 'arsenal of measures' in wake of Fatah Hamas pact

Mahmoud Abbas insisted that the inclusion of Hamas
made no difference to the Palestinian Authority's determination
to seek a peace deal with Israel
Adrian Bloomfield

Israel has threatened to use an "arsenal of measures" against the Palestinian territories, including withholding £480 million of taxes and subjecting leaders to humiliating border checks in retaliation for the Fatah Hamas pact.

Mahmoud Abbas, the pro-western president of the Palestinian Authority, was accused of siding with terrorists after his secular Fatah party agreed on Wednesday to end a long-running schism with its arch-rival Hamas, the Islamist overlords of the Gaza Strip.
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, said the deal made it "inevitable" that Hamas would take over the West Bank leaving the Jewish state to confront an enemy bent on its destruction on two fronts.
Under the terms of the unexpected deal, reached after weeks of secret talks in the Egyptian capital Cairo, Hamas and Fatah, which fought a brief civil war in 2007, will form a provisional government that will oversee the preparation of presidential and parliamentary elections within a year.
While the deal has been hailed in the Arab world and among ordinary Palestinians, Israel has said it will have nothing to do with a government that comprises a significant terrorist element.
Mr Lieberman gave warning that Israel would show its displeasure by directly punishing Mr Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who enjoys strong western support.

"With this accord, a red line has been crossed," Mr Lieberman said. "We have always made clear that we will not negotiate with a terror organisation. We have to make clear that our words were not empty threats.

"We have at our disposal a vast arsenal of measures including the lifting of VIP status for Abu Mazen [Mr Abbas] and Salam Fayyad, which will not allow them to move freely."

If Mr Lieberman were to make good his threat, the ability of both men to travel outside the Palestinian Territories would be heavily circumscribed and they would be subject to the frequently humiliating security checks that ordinary Palestinians face on a regular basis.

Even more damagingly, Mr Lieberman threatened to withhold Palestinian customs levies, which are collected by Israel as the occupying power, a step that could deprive the Palestinian Authority of up to a third of its revenues. Israel took the same measure after Hamas won a parliamentary majority following legislative elections in 2006.

Accusations of betrayal were also levelled against Mr Abbas by Ehud Barak, defence minister, who spoke in menacing terms of Israel's future relationship with the new Palestinian government.
Mr Abbas insisted that the inclusion of Hamas made no difference to the Palestinian Authority's determination to seek a peace deal with Israel, saying the transitional government's remit was restricted to preparations for elections and did not extend to negotiations.

He also expressed optimism that Hamas would now meet international demands by recognising Israel's right to exist and disavowing violence.

In private, some Israeli officials have been cautiously welcoming of the deal, saying it removed a major obstacle to any Arab-Israeli peace deal.

Until now, Israel has frequently argued that Mr Abbas did not have a mandate to reach a peace deal with Israel or to seek international recognition for Palestinian statehood because he did not represent the people of Gaza.

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