PARIS Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday in Paris called on Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas to clarify its position toward Israel before peace talks with Palestinians can resume.
Speaking to journalists after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Netanyahu accused Hamas of wanting a Palestinian state to pursue its aim of destroying Israel rather than living side-by-side in peace.
"The idea is not to establish a Palestinian state to continue the conflict as Hamas wants. The idea is to establish a Palestinian state to end the conflict," Netanyahu said.
"I think clarity is necessary, because in fact, what is being discussed today is to create a Palestinian state in order to improve the positions from which Hamas wants to drive Israel to the sea."
Wednesday in London, Netanyahu condemned a Palestinian unity pact as a "tremendous blow to peace.
The Palestinian Fatah movement, which backs negotiated peace with Israel, and Hamas, whose founding charter calls for the Jewish state's destruction, ended a four-year rift Wednesday by signing a reconciliation agreement in Egypt.
Sarkozy told Netanyahu that the pro-democracy movements sweeping the Arab world presented an opportunity for reviving peace talks, according to a source close to the French presidency.
The source said it remained to be seen how peace talks could be resumed depending on what form the Palestinian government takes and Hamas' role in it. "It's important that all of that is clarified," the source said.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization broke down last year and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been pushing instead to obtain United Nations backing this September for an independent state on all areas Israel occupied in a 1967 war.
Netanyahu criticized such a move, saying that peace "can only happen through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and not through a UN diktat."
Sarkozy told news magazine L'Express in an interview published this week that France would recognize a Palestinian state if peace talks had not resumed by late 2011.
(Reporting by Yann Le Guernigou, Emmanuel Jarry and Nicholas Vinocur; Writing by Leigh Thomas)