Abbas says ready to negotiate if Israel meets Palestinians’ demands

Abu Mazen: Palestinian reconciliation to help achieve two states solution

Meshaal appeals to international community to press Israel into recognizing Palestinians’ rights

Netanyahu asserts no peace with Palestinian Authority that involves Hamas

Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview with local media that Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas is "absolutely" still a peace partner for Israel, despite his plans to join a unity government with Hamas, which Israel strongly opposes.

Peres' statements apparently run counter to the Israeli government's position of having no connection with the PNA since the Palestinian reconciliation pact was signed in Cairo last week.

In an interview published on Monday's The Jerusalem Post newspaper to commemorate Israel's 63rd Independence Day, Peres said he "criticized" Abbas over agreeing to sign the reconciliation accord with the Islamist group of Hamas, whose founding charter and repeated public statements by its leaders call for Israel's destruction.

However, "that doesn't free me of the need to talk with him ( Abbas)," Peres said, "I have no intention of turning my back on the Palestinian peace camp, even if I criticize it."

In a parallel development, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening pressed a U.S. congressional delegation to tell the PNA not to join in a unity government with Hamas.

"The Palestinians have to make a choice for peace or a choice to go with Hamas," Netanyahu told the eight-member delegation led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Israeli prime minister made the same pitch to British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week.

"If this union was for peace, we would support it," Netanyahu told both leaders, calling on them to "insist on the Quartet principle, according to which any Palestinian government -- and component thereof -- must recognize the conditions set by the Quartet," according to a statement by the prime minister.

"However, it pushes us away from peace and, in effect, the PNA is accepting into its ranks a body that is committed to our destruction in word, deed and in its armament program. This is a move that is very anti-peace," according to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu's meeting with the legislators came prior to his address before a joint session of the U.S. Congress later this month and an expected meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Abbas on Sunday told a visiting group of left-of-center American Jewish leaders in Ramallah that he would be willing to forgo a United Nations resolution of statehood at the General Assembly in September, if Israel would cease all settlement construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and agree to pull back to the cease-fire lines of the 1967 war.

The controversial lobbying group J Street is considered strongly leftist, and its cofounder has said Israel's creation was "an act that was wrong."

During the interview, Peres criticized the Palestinian bid to turn to the UN for recognition of their statehood and bypass the Israeli concerns.

"Going to the UN solely with a declaration of statehood, without giving an answer to Israel's security concerns, that will mean a continuation of the conflict, not an end to the conflict," Peres said.

"I'm in favor of recognizing them provided they recognize Israel's security needs," he emphasized.

Abbas told Israel's Army Radio on Sunday that "If progress was recorded in negotiations, September would become a meaningless deadline because our preference is a peace process."

Abbas said Sunday that national unity is the best way to make comprehensive peace and achieve the two-state solution.

"We are ready to resume peace negotiations if the Israeli government accepts the peace references and halts settlement construction," Palestinian official WAFA news agency quoted Abbas as saying.

Abbas statements came during his meeting in Ramallah with the members of the Jewish-American J Street pro-peace advocacy group.

Abbas said that anyone champions the two-state solution should recognize the Palestinian state on the lands occupied in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Fatah signed Wednesday an Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement with the Gaza-ruling Hamas movement to end the four-year- long political division.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on Wednesday challenged Israel to peace, offering to work with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt on a new strategy to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But Meshaal, addressing a meeting in Cairo to announce a reconciliation agreement between his Islamist group and its secular Fatah rival, said he did not believe Israel was ready for peace with any Palestinians.

"We have given peace since Madrid till now 20 years, and I say we are ready to agree among us Palestinians and with Arab support to give an additional chance," Meshaal said, referring to the 1991 international Middle East peace conference that launched Israeli-Arab peace talks.

"But, dear brothers, because Israel does not respect us, and because Israel has rejected all our initiatives and because Israel deliberately rejects Palestinian rights, rejects Fatah members as well as Hamas...it wants the land, security and claims to want peace," he said.

Israel regards Hamas, whose founding charter calls for destruction of the Jewish state, as a terrorist organization. It has opposed Abbas's peace efforts with Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the new unity pact between Hamas and Fatah.

"What happened in Cairo is a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism," he told reporters during a visit to London.

Meshaal said that Egypt, the Arab League and the Muslim World's largest body, the Islamic Organization Conference, must work together to search for a new strategy.

"We don't want to declare war on any one," Meshaal said.

"We want to wrench our rights and draft a new strategy for ourselves, to master all forms of power that will force Netanyahu to withdraw from our lands and to recognize our rights," he added. "We are telling the world: stand with us."

The Palestinian leadership asked Arab states to meet their financial commitments to the Palestinians to compensate deficit after Israel withheld transferring tax revenues to the Palestinians, an official said Thursday.

The freezing of the monthly transfers left the Palestinian National Authority unable to pay April salaries for its 148,000 employees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The PLO decided to go to the Arab states to encourage them to support the Palestinians financially in line with the Arab League' s resolutions, said Saleh Ra'fat, a member of the organization's Executive Committee.

Ra'fat noted that most of the Arab states have not paid the annual amounts allocated for Palestine in 2011.

The Executive Committee also considers going to the United Nations to force Israel to release the money.

Israel collects and transfers duties on Palestinian imports to the PNA every month. The PNA gets two thirds of its budget from the tax revenues.

Israel froze the transfers earlier this month after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party reached an agreement to enter in alliance with Islamic Hamas movement.

The Egyptian-brokered Palestinian reconciliation's agreement would end political split between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-ruled West Bank.

Some banks started giving loans of nearly 300 U.S. dollars to the PNA's employees in a bid to ease the crisis, but unions gave the PNA an ultimatum ending on Monday before taking measures to protest the delay in having their salaries paid.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting U.S. lawmakers he is uneasy with a recent Hamas-Fatah agreement that "pushes us away from peace."

Netanyahu met with an eight-member U.S. delegation in Jerusalem Sunday and urged the lawmakers to send a clear signal to the Palestinian Authority, insisting that it shouldn't join in a unity government with Hamas, The Jerusalem Post reported Monday.

"If this [Fatah-Hamas] union was for peace, we would support it," Netanyahu said. "However, it pushes us away from peace and, in effect, the PA is accepting into its ranks a body that is committed to our destruction in word, deed and in its armament program. This is a move that is very anti-peace."

Netanyahu said it is important for the United States and the international community to understand that Israel wouldn't negotiate with a Fatah-Hamas government unless it renounces terror, recognizes Israel and accepts past agreements.

The meeting with U.S. lawmakers, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House minority leader, came on the same day a visiting delegation from the Jewish American non-governmental group J Street met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

There were hopes the U.S. trip would be a prelude to a breakthrough in the peace process, but the signing last week of a unity deal between Fatah and Hamas ended that hope, the report said.

The U.S. delegation is in Israel for two days as part of a Middle East trip that includes a planned stop in Iraq.