JERUSALEM — Israel has said it was halting peace talks with the Palestinians following their unity deal with Hamas, as the faltering US-backed process approached its deadline.
On Wednesday, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – the internationally recognised representative of the Palestinian people – and the Gaza Strip's Islamist Hamas rulers signed a reconciliation agreement.
They agreed to form a "national consensus" government under Abbas within weeks.
Israel's security cabinet announced on Thursday it would "not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas" and vowed unspecified "measures" in response.
Any new measures would follow a raft of financial sanctions unveiled this month when the Palestinians applied to adhere to 15 international treaties.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday criticised the agreement between the rival factions as a move that "kills peace," but senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat blamed Israeli settlement activity for killing off the process.
Netanyahu said it was signed "while Israel was making efforts to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians" and was "a direct continuation of the Palestinian recalcitrance to promote negotiations," due to expire on April 29.
Israel's chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, said they had proposed a "creative solution" on Tuesday that would enable extending talks.
She said Israel was only "suspending" talks and "the door has not been shut today," stressing the sanctions planned were "measured" and "would not collapse the Palestinian Authority."
But Erakat said "Netanyahu's government has been asked for years to choose between peace and settlements, and it chose settlements."
He said the Palestinian leadership would "look into all options to respond" to Israel's decisions.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said in a statement the group "fully supports Palestinian president Abbas in facing all the pressures applied on him by Israel."
US envoy Martin Indyk has repeatedly met both sides to try to salvage the negotiations, and met with Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted peace talks could still advance if the sides compromised.
"There's always a way forward, but the leaders have to make the compromises to do that.We may see a way forward, but if they're not willing to make the compromises necessary it becomes very elusive," he said.
Abbas says he will not extend the negotiations unless Israel agrees to freeze all settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, and frees Arab prisoners earmarked for release this month. He has also demanded an immediate start to negotiations on the future borders of the Palestinians' promised state. — AFP