Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Picture: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Picture: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN

Jerusalem — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel would reject any reconciliation deal between the two leading Palestinian factions unless the Iran-backed Islamist movement Hamas disarmed.

"We are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence," Netanyahu said in a statement.

"Whoever wants to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very clear: recognise the state of Israel, disband the Hamas military arm [and] sever the connection with Iran — which calls for our destruction," Netanyahu added.

Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah began a three-day visit to Gaza on Monday as the two leading factions seek a reconciliation deal that could lead to a unity government.

He chaired the first meeting of the Palestinian cabinet in the Gaza Strip for three years on Tuesday, in a move towards reconciliation between the mainstream Fatah party and Islamist group Hamas.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 in fighting with Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, and has ruled the impoverished desert enclave of 2-million people since then.

Hamdallah told his ministers the cabinet session was a major step in a reconciliation process promoted by Egypt and other US-allied Arab countries.

But a first sign of discontent was quickly evident, as Hamas criticised Abbas’s decision to await the outcome of talks Fatah plans to hold with the group in the next two weeks before lifting sanctions he has imposed on Gaza.

The internationally recognised Palestinian Authority (PA) has signed a peace deal with Israel but Hamas, which runs Gaza and has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008, has not.

Hamas maintains a major military wing, and senior officials have downplayed the idea of disarming in any reconciliation deal.

However Abbas said in an interview on Monday that there would be "one state, one system, one law and one weapon" — in an apparent reference to Hamas’s military wing.

West Bank

Netanyahu also pledged to build "thousands" of new homes in a major West Bank settlement east of Jerusalem, insisting it would one day be part of Israel.

"We shall build here thousands of housing units" and add industrial zones, Netanyahu said during a visit to the Maale Adumim settlement of 37,000 people on Tuesday.

"This place will be a part of the state of Israel," he added, speaking in Hebrew.

Netanyahu has repeatedly spoken of major blocs of West Bank settlements being absorbed into Israel in a future peace agreement with the Palestinians.

He did not specify where or when the new building at Maale Adumim would take place but settlement watchdog Peace Now has spoken of plans to build in the contentious area known as E1 adjacent to the settlement.

E1 and Maale Adumim form an Israeli buffer east of Jerusalem that the Palestinians say would divide the West Bank and badly hurt the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.

About 430,000 Israeli settlers live among 2.6-million Palestinians in the West Bank.

AFP and Reuters

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