Israeli official: Planned Hamas attack and Jewish extremism
threatening peace talks
Hopes for a Middle East peace deal are being threatened by a rise in
Jewish extremism and a planned Hamas terror campaign in the West Bank,
a senior Israeli intelligence official has warned.
The emergence of twin dangers from opposite ends of the political
spectrum comes at a rare moment of guarded optimism for the peace
process after the Israeli cabinet was presented with a US proposal to
defuse a row over Jewish settlement building.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, has rapidly expanded its
infrastructure in the West Bank in the past three months with the
intention of using the territory to strike at Israel, the official said.
"This is a very dangerous development we are facing today," he told
western correspondents in a rare briefing. "They are planning a wave of
very big attacks on Israel. They want to foil peace plans."
Hamas has largely confined its operations to launching rockets from
Gaza, but the group claimed responsibility for the killing of four
Jewish settlers in the West Bank at the beginning of September. The
attack was timed to coincide with the launch of direct peace talks
between Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership.
The official said that interrogations of Hamas operatives suspected of
involvement in the attack indicated that it was merely the first salvo
in a prolonged campaign that is already in its advanced planning stages.
Hamas, which still refuses formally to acknowledge Israel's right to
exist, is bitterly opposed to the peace talks, but the official said
the movement was also using its campaign to attempt to take control of
the West Bank, which is controlled by the moderate Fatah faction.
Israel's intelligence services are equally worried by growing settler
extremism in the West Bank. Radical Jews in the territory, which has
been under Israeli occupation for 43 years, have carried out acts of
violence against both Palestinians and the Israeli security forces.
"Till now there has been no terror but we know this can quickly become
terror attacks, which is why we want to put them in jail straight
away," the official said.
He also sounded a stark warning to the Israeli leadership, saying that
continued delays in peace talks could cause a collapse of the
Palestinian leadership and security services, which have played a vital
role in restoring stability in the West Bank.
Right-wing Israeli opposition to Palestinian demands that settlement
construction in the West Bank has repeatedly held up peace talks, and
the official warned that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, was
becoming increasingly "tired and fed up" as a result.
If he continued to feel "humiliated", Mr Abbas could carry out a threat
to resign, creating a dangerous security vacuum.
"In order to keep the legitimacy and functions of the Palestinian
security system we need real progress in the peace process," he said.
The Israeli cabinet is due to meet on Wednesday when it is expected
narrowly to approve a US proposal offering substantial security
incentives in exchange for a new 90-day moratorium on settlement
construction in the West Bank.
The Palestinian leadership suspended its role in peace talks when Mr
Netanyahu refused to extend a previous moratorium that lapsed in
Even if the Israelis agree to a new settlement freeze it is unclear
whether it will be enough to persuade the Palestinians to return to
talks because the moratorium would not apply mainly Arab East Jerusalem.