Although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas surprised the world by calling the Holocaust "the most heinous crime" in recent history, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it's not enough to get stalled peace talks back on track after a unity pact between rival Palestinian factions.
Israel suspended the U.S.-backed talks last week after Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), moved to form a government with Hamas, an Islamist organization in control of the Gaza Strip that both Israel and the U.S. consider to be a terrorist organization.
Abbas' recognition of the Holocaust and expression of sympathy for the victims Sunday was a rare move and one that was seen as an attempt to move Israeli public opinion. But Netanyahu, in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, said it's difficult to "reconcile" the statement with the recent unity deal.
"I think it's an overture to American public opinion, to world opinion to try to placate and somehow smooth over the fact that he made a terrible step away from peace," Netanyahu said. "He made a giant leap backwards, away from pace, because he embraced Hamas, that calls for the extermination of Jews worldwide, for the eradication of Israel."
He called on Abbas to "tear up" the pact with Hamas and recognize Israel as a Jewish state. "You can't have both Hamas and peace with Israel," he said.
Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken said it was still early to see whether the two rival Palestinian groups would actually form a unity government, attempts at which have failed in the past.
"But our principles are very clear: Any Palestinian government has to recognize Israel, it has to renounce violence, it has accept past agreements," Blinken added in a separate interview on "Face the Nation." "That's the basis upon which we would work with such a government, and it's reasonable to expect Israel to work with such a government on that basis as well."
Critics have suggested that Netanyahu is using the recent deal between Hamas and the PLO as an excuse not to continue negotiations aimed at establishing two separate states. In response, Netanyahu said he had negotiated with "earnest" and had remarked to Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday that some progress had been made before hearing about the unity deal Wednesday.
"We were both shocked. There's no other word. We were absolutely stupefied that President Abbas embraced the terrorist organization Hamas that seeks Israel's destruction," he said.
Blinken suggested that both sides need to step back and consider whether there is a basis to move forward, which will require tough decisions that no one is prepared to make.
Netanyahu, however, is sticking to his position.
"As long as I'm prime minister of Israel, we will not negotiate with a government that is backed by Hamas, an organization that is committed to our destruction. It's common sense," he said. "There are some groups, some movements, some organizations that you do not negotiate with. You don't negotiate with al Qaeda... we don't negotiate with Hamas as long as they seek our destruction. You have to be very clear on that."
Posted by: Lindsay Sax