DAILY MAIL 4th May 2011
By Tim Shipman and Matthew Kalman
Britain is prepared to formally recognise a Palestinian state unless Israel opens peace talks with the Palestinians.
David Cameron last night warned Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu that the UK is prepared to recognise an independent Palestine at a United Nations meeting in September.
British diplomats described the threat as one of Britain’s few ‘levers’ to press Israel to join talks with Palestinian officials.
Tough talking: David Cameron (right) last night warned Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu that the UK is prepared to recognise an independent Palestine at a United Nations meeting in September
The two prime ministers met in Downing Street last night after rival Palestinian factions endorsed a unity agreement yesterday.
The deal ends four years of bitterness and violence between the dominant Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that rules Gaza.
Palestinian leaders hailed the deal as a major step towards an independent state. They plan to form an interim government and hold long-delayed elections within a year.
Mr Cameron turned the screws on Israel last night after Mr Netanyahu said: 'What happened today is a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism.'
But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said at the reconciliation ceremony that Israel’s opposition to the reconciliation, was an excuse to 'evade a peace deal'.
Mr Abbas said. 'The state of Palestine must be born this year.’
He is expected to call for unilateral recognition from world powers at a UN meeting in September, a call likely to be backed by Arab countries and Latin America, with the USA opposed.
A senior Downing Street source made clear Britain is ready to recognise a Palestinian state.
‘Our clear preference is for a negotiated settlement where everyone can endorse a two state solution,’ the source said.
‘But if there is no agreement to enter talks that could force the issue.
‘The best way for the Israelis to avoid a unilateral declaration is to engage in peace talks.’
Britain has already beefed up its diplomatic presence with the Palestinians, upgrading its presence in Jerusalem from a delegation to a mission earlier this year.
The Prime Minister told Mr Netanyahu that he understood Israel’s nervousness about the sweeping changes in the Middle East but insisted that the Arab Spring is ‘an opportunity not a threat’.
Resistance: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Israel's opposition to the reconciliation, was an excuse to 'evade a peace deal'
Mr Cameron warned that failure to engage in talks with the Palestinians would ‘fuel hate and radicalisation’.
He also told Israel that opting for talks on a two state solution was necessary to silence Israel’s critics who say the country is not interested in peace.
Officials said Mr Cameron hoped to influence what Mr Netanyahu says when he makes a speech to the US Congress in a couple of months time.
The prime minister’s spokesman also urged the newly re-united Palestinian factions to do a deal: ‘The Prime Minister made clear we hope Palestinian unity between Fatah and Hamas will be a step forward but we will judge any Palestinian government on its actions.
‘We want the Palestinian government that emerges to reject violence and engage in a meaningful peace process.’
The new government in Egypt helped broker the truce after Hamas had a change in heart and finally accepted a deal first offered two years ago.
Mr Abbas said it had “turned forever the black page of division. Hamas is part of the Palestinian people’.
Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal said the rivalry with Fatah was over. 'Hamas’s only conflict is with Israel,' he said.
Mashaal hinted at a change in policy when he said, 'We want an independent Palestinian state with sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza.'
Hamas has always sought the destruction of Israel. Mashaal has not said whether the new state will live at peace with its neighbour or continue fighting.
Hamas spearheaded suicide bombings against Israel and entered Palestinian politics in 2006, promptly defeating Fatah in parliamentary elections. But the refusal of Hamas to renounce violence and recognize peace agreements with Israel led to the collapse of a unity government.
In 2007, Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza in a bloody coup that left more than 400 Fatah supporters dead. Fatah retaliated by arresting Hamas supporters in the West Bank and stopping funds.
Some of those tensions remained yesterday. The ceremony was delayed nearly two hours when Abbas refused to allow Mashaal to join him on the podium.
Tony Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet of the UN, EU, US and Russia, said the international community supports Palestinian reconciliation but will demand that the new unity government recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence.
Blair said Hamas must have “a change of heart” for the government to succeed.