JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister has distanced himself from a closed-door meeting that took place last week between Israel’s chief peace negotiator and the Palestinian president following the collapse of peace talks, an Israeli official said Sunday.
The official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told negotiator Tzipi Livni she could only represent herself in the meeting, not the Israeli government. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter.
Israel suspended U.S.-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians last month after the Palestinian president reached a unity deal with his rival faction, the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The official said Netanyahu stressed to Livni that “Israel’s position as decided unanimously by the Cabinet is that the Israeli government will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction.”
The Palestinian split goes back to 2007 when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip after expelling the rival forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, dominated by his Fatah movement, now governs parts of the West Bank. After repeated attempts at reconciliation, the rival governments signed a pact last month calling for the two sides to form a unity government in June, and then hold new elections around year’s end.
A Palestinian official said Abbas met with Livni in London on Thursday, but would not disclose the content of the meeting. A spokeswoman for Livni could not be immediately reached.
Amram Mitzna, a lawmaker from Livni’s political party, told Army Radio that Livni had met with Abbas to discuss whether to renew peace talks. He said Livni had met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in London before meeting Abbas.
Hawkish Israeli lawmakers on Sunday criticized Livni’s meeting.
“The gaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians are too big,” said Ayelet Shaked, a hard-line lawmaker in the governing coalition, on Army Radio. “A peace agreement won’t happen in the coming years.”