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Israeli PM Netanyahu: No peace talks if Abbas is backed by Hamas

By Laura Smith-Spark and Josh Levs, CNN
updated 6:19 AM EDT, Mon April 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Netanyahu was never serious about peace talks, Palestinian official says
  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel won't take part in negotiations backed by Hamas
  • "I call on President Abbas: Tear up your pact with Hamas," Netanyahu says
  • Netanyahu says he will "seek other ways" to achieve peace if necessary

(CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel cannot negotiate with the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas while it is backed by Hamas.

"I call on President Abbas: Tear up your pact with Hamas," Netanyahu said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"We're not going to negotiate with a government backed by Hamas unless Hamas changes its position and says it's willing to recognize Israel," he said.

Netanyahu's comments come four days after the Abbas-led Palestinian movement Fatah, which controls the West Bank and dominates the Palestinian Authority, said it would attempt to form a unity government with Hamas, the militant Islamic group that controls Gaza. Hamas hasn't recognized Israel's right to exist, and Israel canceled scheduled peace talks after Wednesday's announcement.

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Netanyahu said that if Israel cannot reach peace with Palestinians through an agreement, "we'll seek other ways" to achieve peace. "I'm not going to accept a stalemate," he said.

But Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi swiftly criticized Netanyahu's "extremely cynical" declaration. Ashrawi accused the Israeli leader of trying to torpedo the peace process by expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where most of a projected Palestinian state would be located, and maintaining the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

"He did everything possible to undermine the talks, and now he is using the pretext of reunification in order to say 'You don't qualify,'" Ashrawi said. She dismissed Netanyahu's assertion that he remained interested in a settlement of the decades-old conflict as "lip service."

"We judge by his actions," she said. "He has been systematically dismantling the process, systematically destroying its very foundations and systematically destroying the very objective, which is a two-state solution, by stealing the land of the Palestinian state. Very simply, if he is serious then he will act in a way that will demonstrate his seriousness."

In the interview Sunday, Netanyahu praised the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the past nine months, saying the United States has been "indispensable" in pushing for peace.

"I appreciate Secretary Kerry's unbelievable efforts," he said. "They don't always succeed -- unfortunately, President Abbas made sure of that by embracing Hamas. But I have to credit John Kerry for his efforts."

Netanyahu also voiced skepticism over comments by Abbas released Sunday in which the Palestinian leader called the Holocaust the most heinous crime in modern human history.

Abbas "can't have it both ways," by calling the Holocaust the most heinous crime in modern history while embracing Hamas, a "terrorist organization that openly denies the Holocaust," Netanyahu said.

He suggested Abbas' remarks, released by his office, were an attempt to placate Western public opinion in the wake of Fatah's step toward Hamas.

The Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank have been run separately for seven years. The split began taking shape in 2006 when Hamas, participating in Palestinian polls for the first time, won a majority in the Palestinian parliament.

The Palestinian Authority formed a coalition government with Hamas that year, with Abbas retaining the presidency and Hamas member Ismail Haniya becoming prime minister. But when Abbas dissolved the government in 2007, Hamas seized control of Gaza, and Haniya became Gaza's de facto political leader.

The West for years has shown support to Fatah and warned it not to join hands with militant Hamas, which several countries, including the United States, have deemed a terrorist organization.

READ: Palestinian leader Abbas calls Holocaust most heinous crime of modern era

CNN's Michael Schwartz contributed to this report.

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