Israel announces its negotiators are walking away from Mideast peace process


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GWEN IFILL: Prospects for a Middle East peace deal encountered a substantial new roadblock today, as Israel announced its negotiators are walking away from the table.

Israel’s pullout came a day after rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah announced a new reconciliation deal. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority controls Palestinian affairs in the West Bank. Hamas, the Islamist militant group demanding Israel’s destruction, is the lead Palestinian power inside Gaza.

In Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the pact in an appearance on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel: I think that what has happened is a great reverse for peace, because we had hoped that the Palestinian Authority president, Abbas, would embrace the Jewish state, the idea of two nation states, a Palestinian one and a Jewish one.

But, instead, he took a giant leap backward. As long as I’m prime minister of Israel, I will never negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by terrorist organizations committed to our destruction.

GWEN IFILL: Netanyahu also threatened sanctions against the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli decision drew swift criticism from Hamas and Fatah.

ISMAIL HANIYEH, Prime Minister, Hamas (through interpreter): The Israeli position was expected. This is occupation, and absolutely they do not want the Palestinian people to be united and want the division to continue.

AZZAM AL-AHMED, Envoy, Fatah (through interpreter): Certainly, all of the issues and concerns of the Palestinians, which were adversely affected by the ongoing division, will be resolved. The end of the division would help in solving all of these problems.

GWEN IFILL: Israel’s decision was the latest blow to a nine-month peace effort brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who engaged in intense shuttle diplomacy. The initial deadline for a peace framework was to be next Tuesday. Despite the setback, Kerry said today, he’s not calling it quits.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: There’s always a way forward, but the leaders have to make the compromises necessary to do that. We may see a way forward, but if they’re not willing to make the compromises necessary, it becomes very elusive. We will never give up our hope or our commitment for the possibilities of peace.

GWEN IFILL: Even before today’s collapse, the peace negotiations had hit rough waters, with Israel complaining that Palestinians wouldn’t recognize a Jewish state.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, blamed Israel for refusing to release Palestinian prisoners and for continuing settlement construction on the West Bank. Abbas has also renewed his campaign to gain U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine, a move the Israelis have condemned.

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