Despite PA Threat, Israel Willing to Restart Talks

Jerusalem, Dec. 26 – Islamist political power is on the rise in the Palestinian Authority, according to a new poll and media reports, yet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again called for the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

"We are willing to meet with the Palestinians anytime and anywhere," Netanyahu told an annual meeting of Israeli diplomats on Sunday, but clarified that the peace process could only advance if security arrangements are kept.

His comments came as a Palestinian official warned that the Palestinian Authority might cancel Palestinian recognition of Israel. “Either Israel recognizes us as a state geographically, or we withdraw our recognition,” said Mohammed Shtayyeh, one of the senior Palestinian negotiators with Israel told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

As in other parts of the Middle East, there is a reported surge in the popularity of Islamist political parties in the Palestinian areas. A December poll suggested Palestinians are feeling more positive about the performance of the Iran-backed Hamas government in Gaza, and a decrease in the positive evaluation of the Fatah government in the West Bank.

The poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research indicated that if elections were held now, Fatah (43 percent) would outpoll Hamas (29 percent). However, this and other recent surveys reflect a swing towards Hamas in recent months. Fatah is the party that has been involved in peace negotiations with Israel. Hamas is an Iran-backed terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.

Hamas co-founder Mahmoud A-Zahar predicted that the rise in Hamas popularity showed that his party would “sweep the elections” scheduled for next May.

Fatah and Hamas are holding reconciliation talks to end five years of division after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections and staged a bloody 2007 coup against Fatah to seize power in the Gaza Strip.

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