Israel on Thursday announced it has suspended the US-mediated peace talks with the Palestinians in response to a unity accord reached between the two rival Palestinian groups, the Hamas and the Fatah.
The decision appears to end a nine-month peace initiative by US Secretary of State John Kerry. The negotiating period is scheduled to end next Tuesday, though the sides had been trying to agree to an extension.
Israel\’s Security Cabinet unanimously decided to cut off contact after a five-hour meeting on Thursday. It announced the decision in a statement.
Reuters reported that Israel was also considering imposing economic sanctions against the Palestinians.
The Palestinians said they were considering "all options" in response to Israel\’s decisions to halt the talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier criticized the announcement, saying Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who represents Fatah, is complicating ongoing peace talks.
"Instead of moving into peace with Israel, he is moving into peace with Hamas and he has to choose. Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can have one, but not the other," he said.
Netanyahu called Hamas a "murderous terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel." Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terror group.
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh says he was not surprised by the Israeli response.
"The Israeli position was expected. This is occupation, and absolutely they do not want the Palestinian people to be united and want the division to continue," he said.
Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas rules the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip.
Israel has been holding peace talks with Abbas for nine months, but Hamas supports armed struggle to liberate all of Palestine and says negotiations are a waste of time.
The Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Abbas\’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed on Wednesday to implement a unity pact, both sides announced in a joint news conference.
They have agreed to begin negotiations to form a unity government within the coming weeks.
At the talks in the Gaza Strip, the delegations reached “common ground in principle” and will now move forward in working out the details of the agreement.
This is not the first time Fatah and Hamas have tried to reconcile in recent years, but such agreements were never implemented.
The latest deal was announced at a news conference between Fatah and Hamas, an Islamist group banned as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU.
They said they planned to form an interim unity government within five weeks and hold general elections within six months of a vote of confidence by the Palestinian parliament.
The sides also agreed to enhance a reform of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to involve all factions.
Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader who announced the terms of the agreement, said the deal came as "the entire city of Jerusalem has been painted Jewish with an attempt to wipe out the Arab identity and desecrate the Muslim and Christian sanctities".
Azzam al-Ahmed, the Fatah delegation head, said he hoped the pact "will be a true beginning for a true partnership in all our spectrums; political, social and societal".
Hamas has been in power in Gaza since 2007, while rival Palestinian faction Fatah holds sway in the West Bank. The factions earlier signed similar reconciliation agreements, but have yet failed to make progress on forming a united government.