Israel sees progress in its Hamas fight

Mahmud Abbas of Fatah has struck an accord with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

Paris: Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday winds up a diplomatic offensive meant to head off French and British support for a Palestinian statehood initiative, with aides declaring him encouraged so far.

"The Prime Minister was pleased," one official said, on condition of anonymity.

After meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday and British Prime Minister David Cameron in London the day before, Netanyahu will see French Premier Francois Fillon on Friday morning, then head home.

The Israeli leader told reporters in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace on Thursday that Sarkozy had backed his demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as "the state of the Jewish people”.

Sarkozy himself did not speak and his office restated France`s policy of support "for the solution of two nation states living side-by-side in peace and security, within safe and recognised borders."

Using Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas` new rapprochement with the militant Islamist Hamas movement to bolster his argument against backing for the caretaker government being selected by both Palestinian groups, Netanyahu was buoyed by a statement issued by Cameron`s office after his talks there.

"Prime Minister Cameron said that any new Palestinian government must reject violence, recognise Israel`s right to exist and engage in the peace process, and that Britain would judge it by its actions," it said, citing longstanding preconditions set by the international community for engagement with Hamas.

Netanayhu said he found a similar attitude in Paris, and Israeli officials said that France was also committed to the preconditions, laid down by the diplomatic Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, which Hamas has so far refused to endorse.

But both Sarkozy and Cameron said they would reserve judgement on the emerging Palestinian alliance, with the Elysee saying it hoped to get a better idea of its makeup and intention "in the coming days" and Cameron expressing the "hope that Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas will be a step forward."

Two weeks after his return to Israel, Netanyahu will set off on his next trip, this time to Washington where he will take his campaign to the White House in a May 20 meeting with President Barack Obama and also address both houses of Congress.

Mahmud Abbas of the Palestinian Fatah faction struck an accord with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on Wednesday, ending a four-year feud and laying the foundations of a new unified Palestinian government.

Israel is concerned that the new Palestinian authority includes militants whom it the United States and the EU consider terrorists and those who are dedicated to denying Israel`s right to exist as an independent Jewish state.

"If (Palestinian) national unity is unity for peace, then we would be the first to support it," Netanyahu said after meeting Sarkozy.

"But if it`s unity to move away from peace, pursue the battle for Israel`s eradication, then obviously we oppose it and so should everyone else."

"If Hamas adopted positions of peace in the unity government I would say great, let`s negotiate," he said in an interview with CNN. "But in fact the opposite has happened."

Some European leaders, including Sarkozy, have warned that they might recognise Palestinian statehood without waiting for a comprehensive peace deal, and would seek a UN resolution to confirm it.

On his visits to Britain and France, Netanyahu has warned that the UN option, far from breathing new life into the peace process, could kill it.

"A serious quest for peace can only happen through negotiations. It can only happen in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and not through a UN diktat," he said in Paris.

Bureau Report

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