Israeli officials presented mix reactions to the Palestinian reconciliation agreement on Thursday, with leaders both criticizing and welcoming the landmark agreement.
Israeli media reported that following the announcement from the Hamas and Fatah movements that an agreement had been reached, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying that any reconciliation should include recognizing Israel and disarming Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist organization.
According to Ynet news, Israel set a series of conditions that must be met before it would recognize the agreement. The condition included Hamas seizing all tunnel digging and missile manufacturing, “an end to terror attacks against Israel,” and the immediate release of Israeli citizens and return of the remains of Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas in Gaza.
“As long as Hamas does not disarm and continues to call for the destruction of Israel, Israel holds it responsible for all terrorist actions originating in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu’s office said. “Israel insists that the PA not allow any base whatsoever for Hamas terrorist actions from PA areas in Judea and Samaria or from Gaza, if the PA indeed takes responsibility for its territory.”
Meanwhile, Zuheir Bahloul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and Israeli parliament member, welcomed the agreement, saying it “once again pulls the rug from under the empty slogans of the Netanyahu government that claims there is no partner and created a responsible and unified leadership on the Palestinian side.”
His fellow Zionist Union member, Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and member of the center-leftist Zionist Union party called the agreement “an opportunity for change,” but added that “as long as Hamas remains an armed terror organization, the Palestinian reconciliation deal is a legitimization of Hamas and terrorism rather than taking control of it.”
Prior to the signing of the reconciliation agreement, Israel has remained relatively silent on the talks.
Netanyahu’s statement following the agreement marked a significant softening of tone, compared to comments he made in 2011 during reconciliation talks, saying “if Hamas joins the Palestinian government we will not hold negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.”
The disarmament of Hamas and the future of its military wing has also been prioritized as a key issue in the deal by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said he does not want a Hezbollah situation in Gaza, where the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) would administer the territory and Hamas would maintain its military power.
Abbas said that despite his “strong desire to see this reconciliation through,” this would not happen unless the PA “ruled the Gaza Strip just as it does the West Bank.”
“The border crossings, security, and all the ministries must be under our control,” he was quoted as saying. Hamas, however, has said multiple times that giving up arms is not up for discussion in the reconciliation process.
While the deal was welcomed by Palestinian leaders on all sides on Thursday, the exact details of the agreement — particularly the issue of Hamas’ military wing and the future of civil servants employed by Hamas — remained unclear.
According to Israeli news daily Haaretz, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that “the next phase of reconciliation will be a meeting of representatives of all the Palestinian factions in Cairo to discuss the major national issues – such as Hamas’s military wing, the issue of weapons and political positions.”
Numerous attempts have been made in the past to reconcile Hamas and Fatah since they came into violent conflict in 2007, shortly after Hamas’ 2006 victory in general elections held in the Gaza Strip.