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Peace deal ‘impossible,’ Israel foreign minister says

JERUSALEM – Israel’s foreign minister said Thursday the new Palestinian reconciliation deal has made a peace agreement “impossible,” as Israeli leaders fumed about the prospects of the Islamic militant group Hamas joining a Palestinian unity government.

Avigdor Lieberman’s comments came as Israel’s Security Cabinet convened for an emergency meeting to discuss a response to the Palestinian deal.

The rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah announced their agreement on Wednesday, seeking to end a seven-year rift that has left the Palestinians divided between separate governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The announcement set off an uproar in Israel, which considers Hamas to be a terrorist group, and threatened U.S.-brokered peace talks that were already limping inconclusively toward an April 29 deadline.

President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah-run Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, favors a peace deal with Israel, while Hamas is sworn to Israel’s destruction. It remains unclear how the two deeply entrenched governments will succeed where so many other attempts have failed.

Lieberman, a member of Israel’s Security Cabinet, told Israel Radio that Israel should resist international pressure to resume talks with Abbas.

“There is no doubt that in the international arena there will be ... pressure to force (an agreement),” Lieberman said. “This is our test, to withstand the pressure.”

Lieberman accused Abbas of participating in “political terror” and said the Palestinian leader’s strategy is to avoid violence while also avoiding peace. “This man will never sign a peace agreement with Israel,” Lieberman said.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Abbas, cautioned that the unity announcement was only a first step.

“The path is full of mines, and any mine could destroy the whole process,” Abed Rabbo said. “We need to know if Hamas was serious about the reconciliation or it is using it as a tactic in order to solve its problems in Gaza.”

An Israeli official said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Security Cabinet for a “special session” Wednesday to weigh possible responses to the Palestinian move. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was unauthorized to publicly discuss the closed-door meeting.

The Security Cabinet is a policy-making body with the authority to enact sanctions against the Palestinians. Earlier this month, Israel decided to withhold certain tax revenues to the Palestinians in retaliation for the Palestinian decision to join international treaties.

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this story.

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