Israeli leaders have ruled out negotiations with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas following a Palestinian unity deal between rivals Hamas and Fatah.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, convened his security cabinet on Thursday, while Israeli President Shimon Peres called the rapprochement a "grave mistake that will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and will sabotage chances of peace and stability in the region".
In an interview with Israeli military radio, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, said the Palestinian deal had "crossed a red line" for Israel.
The comments come a day after Hamas and Fatah reached an initial unity deal in Cairo to end a four-year-old dispute that left Fatah controlling the West Bank and Hamas controlling Gaza. The Palestinians claim both territories for a future independent state.
The Egyptian-brokered deal, which took many by surprise, has revived hopes of ending bitter infighting that weakened the Palestinians politically and killed dozens in violent clashes and crackdowns.
The Palestinian plan calls for the formation of a joint caretaker government to prepare the way for elections next year. The Palestinians say the move is a step toward independence.
Prospects for Peace
With a breakdown in peace talks with Israel, the Palestinians have been campaigning to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian statehood in September, with or without a peace deal.
Peres said he feared Hamas would ultimately take over the West Bank after a Palestinian election and that the influence of Iran, which supports Hamas would be strengthened as a result.
But Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, stressed he would retain control over foreign policy.
He added that he remained ready to talk peace with Netanyahu if Israel halted its settlement construction on occupied lands and said the caretaker government would not include Hamas activists.
"The people will be independents, technocrats, not affiliated with any factions,” Abbas told a group of Israeli businessmen and retired security chiefs.
He said the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which he heads and to which Hamas does not belong, would still be responsible for "handling politics, negotiations".
"Dislike, agree or disagree (with Hamas) — they’re our people. You, Mr Netanyahu (are) our partner," Abbas, speaking in English, told his Israeli audience.
Greeted with Caution
The UN’s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton greeted the unity deal with caution, stressing the need to promote peace.
"We will study the detail of this agreement and discuss with colleagues in the EU and in the region,” Ashton said.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Palestinian unity would promote peace.
"Those who want peace and want democracy must support Palestinian reconciliation,” he said.
Rivalries between the two Palestinian factions began in 2006 after Hamas won parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank. A short-lived unity government collapsed into civil war the following year, and Hamas seized power in Gaza.
The Palestinian factions are set to meet next week in Egypt and the official signing ceremony will take place before May 10, said Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah delegation.
Israel has held peace talks with the Fatah-led government. But those negotiations have been frozen since September, with Abbas refusing to negotiate while Israel expands settlements in the West Bank.
Husam Zomlot, the Fatah spokesperson, said Abbas is embarking on a new strategy. "But of course he is not waging a war against either Israel or the West,” he added.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)