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US Envoy: Hamas Must Disarm to Join Palestinian Government

Image: US Envoy: Hamas Must Disarm to Join Palestinian Government

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Thursday, 19 October 2017 02:25 PM

President Donald Trump's Mideast envoy said on Thursday that if Hamas wants to play a role in any Palestinian government, it must renounce violence and commit to negotiations with Israel — demands the Islamic militant group has always rejected.

Jason Greenblatt's statement was the first American comment on the advancing reconciliation efforts between the rival Palestinian Fatah and Hamas factions, and echoed Israeli demands.

"Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties — including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements," Greenblatt said in a statement.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah-led forces in 2007, leaving Abbas only in control of autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Past attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed. But after a decade-long blockade by Israel and Egypt, and three wars with Israel, Hamas has said it is ready to compromise.

Under Egyptian auspices, the Palestinian factions last week reached a preliminary agreement and have formed committees to sort out unresolved issues, most notably who will control Hamas' massive arsenal. The deal has yet to be implemented.

Later Thursday, a White House official said that Greenblatt was traveling to Egypt to talk to officials about the Palestinian reconciliation efforts. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Greenblatt has been shuttling through the region in search of a formula to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which last broke down in 2014. His statement Thursday reiterated longstanding demands of Hamas by the international community.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said this week there would be no talks with the Palestinians unless Hamas agrees to the same conditions. Netanyahu, who welcomed Greenblatt's statement, has added some additional demands, including that Hamas disarm and return the remains of two Israeli soldiers and send back two Israeli civilians believed to be in Hamas captivity.

Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and other Western nations, does not plan to officially be part of the next government.

The Palestinians appear to be hopeful that this will be enough to satisfy the international community. However, Hamas has said it will not dismantle its powerful military wing, and it is likely to wield influence behind the scenes.

In a statement, Hamas said it rejected "the extortion and American bias toward the Israeli positions expressed by Jason Greenblatt."

"Hamas will go ahead in the reconciliation and will not pay attention to any attempt to sabotage or block this track," it said.

Abbas seeks an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel captured the territories in 1967, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

With peace efforts on hold, Israel this week pushed plans ahead for roughly 3,000 new homes in West Bank settlements, according to Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement monitoring group.

The planned units are scattered throughout the West Bank and at various stages of approval. Peace Now estimated that roughly 700 of them can be built immediately.

According to Peace Now, Israel has currently advanced plans for over 6,700 homes this year. That is more than double the number of last year and triple the 2015 level. It also is higher than the 6,293 units advanced in 2014.

The Palestinians and most of the international community consider settlements to be illegal and obstacles to peace. Israel says their fate should be determined in negotiations.

In a departure from Barack Obama's opposition to all settlement construction, Trump has taken a different approach, urging restraint by Israel but also saying a freeze on building is unnecessary.

Anat Ben Nun, a spokeswoman for Peace Now, said that Trump's approach, along with the international community's focus on other issues, such as the international refugee crisis, has resulted in less pressure on Israel and encouraged construction.

"This is definitely affecting the freedom of the Netanyahu government to develop settlements more rapidly," she said.

The White House had no immediate comment on the latest settlement plans.

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President Donald Trump's Mideast envoy said on Thursday that if Hamas wants to play a role in any Palestinian government, it must renounce violence and commit to negotiations with Israel — demands the Islamic militant group has always rejected.
israel, palestinians, us envoy, hamas, disarm
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2017-25-19
Thursday, 19 October 2017 02:25 PM
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