Benjamin Netanyahu

Recently, the Palestine Solidarity Movement, in concert with other forces, proposed a resolution in Student Government urging the University of Texas Investment Management Company to divest itself from companies that the PSM deems to facilitate the oppression of Palestinians. 

Specifically, the resolution is part of a broader platform of boycotts, divestment and sanctions that has been proposed by likeminded individuals nationwide. I agreed with my compatriots on the Texan’s editorial board last Friday when we rightly recommended that the Student Government vote down this asinine resolution because it is not SG’s role to meddle in “foreign policy squabbles.” That much is true. But it is also true that this resolution, like any part of the misguided BDS movement, is hypocritical, anti-Semitic and wrong.

Proponents of BDS claim that such tactics are necessary to dissuade Israel from continuing its illegal occupation of Palestine. They have also been emboldened by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent dishonorable comments opposing the creation of an independent Palestinian state, an ostensible Israeli policy goal for the past 22 years. 

I, for one, certainly agree that Netanyahu’s comments are inexcusable and some of Israel’s conduct is nothing short of egregious. But punitive measures against the whole of Israeli society, such as the divestment considered by the university, are most definitely the wrong way to voice opposition to the many foreign policy mistakes that the Netanyahu government has made.

Countless other countries around the world, including Armenia, China, India, Russia and Turkey, to name a few, occupy others’ lands. Plenty more, including Georgia, Morocco and Serbia, have dragged their feet on recognizing breakaway regions as independent. Where is the controversy and, more appropriately, where are the organized punitive measures?

There are none, of course, because disagreeable foreign policy actions do not necessitate the collective punishment of a politically, culturally and ethnically diverse group of people such as the Israeli public. Comparisons to the South African apartheid, as the BDS movement regularly makes, are hyperbolic and incorrect.

During apartheid, blacks in South Africa were systemically denied their basic civil rights nationwide. They were denied rights based solely on the color of their skin, and no other rationale. In Israel proper — that is, the portion of the nation outside of the Palestinian territories that are the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, are granted full civil rights. More than a million Arab citizens enjoy all the rights and privileges of Israeli society, including the right to partake in all portions of the Israeli welfare state, vote and hold public office.

Palestinians in the occupied territories face discrimination and unneeded roadblocks to self-determination, but they are simply not victims of apartheid; rather, they are victims of a dragged-out war with a neighboring nation. The comparison to the apartheid is simply, to say the least, one of apples and oranges.

Sadly, though, BDS is not about seeking justice for Palestinians. Instead, it is about seeking to stigmatize, isolate and otherwise attack the Jews in our two-thousand year quest for a homeland. As reported in a New York Times op-ed, the leaders of BDS have revealed that their true quest is not an independent State of Palestine, peacefully coexisting side-by-side with an independent State of Israel. Omar Barghouti, one of BDS’ founders, was quoted by the article as saying that he does not want “a two-state solution,” instead advocating for “a Palestine next to a Palestine.” National leaders of BDS like Barghouti want one Palestine and no Israel.

I support a two-state solution, as do almost all of the American-Jewish community and a majority of the Israeli public. Sadly, Netanyahu does not appear to share this sentiment. He does, after all, have a lot of company in that position, including the Ayatollah of Iran, Hamas and the BDS movement. Prejudice, hatred and bigotry, be it Netanyahu’s islamophobia or BDS’s anti-Semitism, have much more in common than their proponents may admit.

Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. Follow Horwitz on Twitter @NmHorwitz.

A protester is arrested while walking down the street on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday. On Aug. 9, a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

It has been a difficult month for the victims of state violence, as well as their families, friends, and those in solidarity. The month-long Israeli assault on Gaza involved a litany of war crimes, including the killing of trapped civilians, multiple bombings of hospitals, and the destruction of Gaza’s only power plant — all with critical U.S. support. And after the U.S. population reeled in shock from the NYPD murder of unarmed black man Eric Garner in broad daylight, Ferguson, Mo., was the site of another police murder — this time of unarmed, black 18-year-old Michael Brown, who, according to an eyewitness, was surrendering as he was shot six times. When people took to the streets of Ferguson in outrage, militarized police forces responded with armored vehicles, riot gear and riot weaponry, including rubber bullets and tear gas, which they used against not only the protesters but also reporters. Such instances of disproportionate force are unfortunately common, but there is at least one consistent pattern: When people resist subjugation, the state responds with violence.

Take Israel: It is a capitalist settler-state whose economy, in author Naomi Klein’s words, has “lost its economic incentive for peace and is heavily invested in fighting and profiting from an endless and unwinnable War on Terror.” So, the Israeli state depends on the subjugation and removal of Palestinians in order to continue economic expansion — this means the rejection of peace is built into its current existence.

In June, the two major factions of official Palestinian leadership, Hamas and Fatah, formed a unity government in the Palestinian Authority — this presented a major geostrategic problem for Israel. As public intellectual Noam Chomsky explains, a 20-year-long Israeli strategy has been “separating Gaza from the West Bank” in order to prevent the West Bank — which is geographically trapped between Israel and Jordan — from using Gaza as “an outlet to the outside world.” This strategy arose due to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which “declared that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial entity whose integrity must be preserved.” The Hamas-Fatah unity threatened to unite the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as a single political entity — this could be a powerful force for peace, and so Israel responded with the opposite.

First, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a terrorist for working with Hamas, which is the democratically elected governing organization of Gaza (but considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel). Second, Israel stated that it would maneuver to prevent further Palestinian elections. And third, it cynically used the murder of three teenage Israeli settlers in the West Bank to unleash a new siege on Palestine — first came the arrests of hundreds of innocents in the West Bank and then the destruction of Gaza, which, in addition to the demolition of mosques, schools, hospitals, and vital infrastructure, has killed almost 2,000 Palestinians, disproportionately children and overwhelmingly civilians. As Amnesty International and other human rights groups have stated, this is collective punishment.

If Israeli capitalism relies on the total subjugation of Palestinians, then U.S. capitalism relies on something similar of black people and has done so since its beginnings under slave labor. The late historian Howard Zinn explains that the “United States government's support of slavery was based on an overpowering practicality,” which was that at their peak, Southern plantations were producing a million tons of cotton annually. And at this country’s founding, that capitalist practicality soundly rejected revolutionary spirit and led to the Constitution’s institutionalization of slavery. Thus, subjugated black labor was placed at the core of U.S. existence — the ending of one could end the other, and as Zinn explains, that meant fear of slave revolt was “a permanent fact of plantation life.” I will not get into the brutal horrors that were inflicted upon slaves in order to control them, particularly following revolts.

After the Civil War, racism continued not simply as a “legacy of slavery,” but because the capitalist economy still required obedient labor to function – as W. E. B. Du Bois put it, the “American Negro” had to be convinced that “his greatest enemy is not the employer who robs him, but his fellow white working-man.” Zinn explains that the American Federation of Labor and other dominant trade unions of the time only fought for limited workers’ rights and embraced the philosophy of “business unionism” – this involved mimicking hierarchical business practices, and thus “the Negro was excluded from most AFL unions.” Fundamentally, this practice perpetuated all the divisions of capitalist society — it was only the anti-capitalist unions, such as the Industrial Workers of the World, that sought to organize all workers, “undivided by sex, race, or skills.” In the midst of such radicalism, the worst sorts of violent coercion of black people were condoned or even actively carried out by the state. Lynchings, for example, typically involved publicly humiliating and murdering a black person, and regularly occurred without punishment in both the North and Jim Crow South – in fact, sociologist Arthur Raper estimates that 90 percent of lynchings were actively encouraged by police and that 50 percent had police participation.

When black students began sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in the 1960s, the norm of subjugation was again threatened. White racists heckled and violently beat them, but it was only the nonviolent students that were “hauled off to jail,” in “mass arrests that [filled] the jails to overflowing.” Malcolm X (and others in the Black Power movement) offered a solution to young black people, one that terrified the state: “You get freedom by letting your enemy know that you’ll do anything to get your freedom.” This is a total refusal to be subjugated, and it is the reason that the overwhelmingly white Ferguson police have gone to war against the majority black protesters. After the Missouri State Police took over from their Ferguson counterparts, there were naïve hopes that they would de-escalate the situation — these were quickly dashed, as they also began using tear gas and militarized crowd-control tactics.

However, the U.S. state apparatus and the people are on opposite sides of this issue. Across the country, vigils with hundreds of people have been held in solidarity with the protesters, including in Austin. Even more amazing has been the international solidarity between subjugated peoples — Palestinians have advised the Ferguson protesters on how to deal with tear gas, tweeted messages and images of solidarity, signed a statement in their support and a Ferguson protester even brought out a Palestinian flag. This empowerment is necessary, because the state will not back down, for the inherent reasons explained. As such, Israel has ended peace talks and launched missile strikes at the family home of a Hamas military commander, killing his wife and child, in retaliation for alleged (and unconfirmed) rockets launched into Israel from Gaza. In either case, Netanyahu has called for a “continued campaign” of strikes in Gaza, which already has a civilian-majority death toll. The St. Louis police have shot and killed yet another black man, 25-year-old Kajieme Powell, and a cellphone video shows that the official police account of the incident contains falsehoods. The state’s violence will continue and so must the struggles against oppression — those of us in Austin must show solidarity for both Palestine and Ferguson.

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.

 

A worker removes election banner of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday. A weakened Netanyahu scrambled Wednesday to keep his job by extending his hand to a new centrist party that advocates a more earnest push on peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

JERUSALEM — The unexpectedly strong showing by a new centrist party in Israel’s parliamentary election has raised hopes of a revival of peace talks with Palestinians that have languished for four years under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Political newcomer Yair Lapid, the surprise kingmaker, is already being courted by a weakened Netanyahu, who needs his support to form a ruling coalition. Lapid has said he will not sit in the government unless the peace process is restarted.

But following a campaign in which the Palestinian issue was largely ignored, it remains unclear how hard Lapid will push the issue in what could be weeks of coalition talks with Netanyahu.

Tuesday’s election ended in a deadlock, with Netanyahu’s hard-line religious bloc of allies and the rival bloc of centrist, secular and Arab parties each with 60 seats, according to near-complete official results. Opinion polls had universally forecast a majority of seats going to the right-wing bloc.

While Netanyahu, as head of the largest single party in parliament, is poised to remain prime minister, it appears impossible for him to cobble together a majority coalition without reaching across the aisle.

Lapid, whose Yesh Atid — or There is a Future — captured 19 seats, putting it in second place, is the most likely candidate to join him. In a gesture to Netanyahu, Lapid said there would not be a “blocking majority,” in which opposition parties prevent the prime minister from forming a government. The comment virtually guarantees that Netanyahu will be prime minister, with Lapid a major partner.

Netanyahu said Wednesday he would work to create a wide coalition stretching across the political divide.

Speaking to reporters, he said the election proved “the Israeli public wants me to continue leading the country” and put together “as broad a coalition as possible.”

He said the next government would pursue three major domestic policy goals: to bring ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, who are routinely granted draft exemptions, into the military, to provide affordable housing and to change the current fragmented multiparty system, which often gives smaller coalition partners outsize strength. 

But Netanyahu only alluded to peacemaking in vague terms, saying coalition talks would focus on “security and diplomatic responsibility.” He took no questions from reporters and immediately walked out of the room.

Palestinians hold posters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a rally supporting the Palestinian UN bid for observer state status, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. The Palestinians will request to upgrade their status on November 29. The status could add weight to Palestinian claims for a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war from Jordan. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The expected U.N. vote Thursday to recognize a state of Palestine will be far more than symbolic — it could give the Palestinians leverage in future border talks with Israel and open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state.


The Palestinians want the 193-member General Assembly to accept “Palestine,” on the lands Israel occupied in 1967, as a non-member observer state. They anticipate broad support.


For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.N. bid is a last-ditch attempt to stay relevant as a leader after years of failed peace talks with Israel, at a time when his Islamic militant Hamas rivals are gaining ground.

The U.S. and Israel have tried to block the quest for U.N. recognition of Palestine, saying it’s an attempt to bypass Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down four years ago.


The U.S. deputy secretary of state, William Burns, met with Abbas in New York on Wednesday, asking Abbas again to drop the idea and promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat. Abbas told Burns it was too late.

Israel, meanwhile, appeared to back away from threats of drastic measures if the Palestinians get U.N. approval, with officials suggesting the government would take steps only if the Palestinians use their new status to act against Israel.


The Palestinians say they need U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967, to be able to resume negotiations with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predecessors accepted the 1967 lines as a basis for border talks, with modifications to be negotiated, including land swaps that would enable Israel to annex some of the largest Jewish settlements. Those talks did not produce a deal, and the sides remained apart on other key issues.


Netanyahu rejects the 1967 lines as starting point while pressing ahead with settlement construction, leaving Abbas little incentive to resume negotiations. Israel goes to elections in January, and polls indicate Netanyahu has a strong chance of winning.

Israel argues that Abbas is trying to dictate the outcome of border talks by going to the U.N., though the recognition request presented to the world body calls for a quick resumption of negotiations on all core issues of the conflict, including borders.


It’s not clear if negotiations could resume even if Obama, freed from the constraints of his re-election campaign, can turn his attention to the Mideast conflict.

Abbas aides have given conflicting accounts of whether Abbas, once armed with global backing for the 1967 borders, will return to negotiations without an Israeli settlement freeze. About half a million Israelis have settled on war-won land.


A construction stop is unlikely, even more so after hawks in Netanyahu’s Likud Party scored major gains in primaries this week.

Israel has said it is willing to resume talks without preconditions.


Government spokesman Mark Regev affirmed the position on Wednesday. Regev said that by going to the U.N., the Palestinians violate “both the spirit and the word of signed agreements to solve issues through negotiations.”

Palestinian officials countered that their historic U.N. bid is meant to salvage a peace deal they say is being sabotaged by Israeli settlement expansion. “It is a last-ditch effort because we believe the two-state solution is in jeopardy as a result of these actions,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, told reporters in Ramallah on Wednesday.


The Palestinians expect that at least two-thirds of the 193 member states in the General Assembly will support them on Thursday, including a number of European countries, among them France, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland.

Those opposed or abstaining include the U.S., Israel, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia. Ashrawi urged the U.S. to at least abstain, saying that voting no “would be seen as being really pathetic by the rest of the world” and hurt American interests in the Middle East.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that “in the long term, this region can only find peace through negotiations to resolve the Middle East conflict,” but she did not say whether her country would abstain or vote against.

“Nothing will really be gained either by unilateral Palestinian initiatives at the United Nations which aim for recognition nor by Israel’s continued building of settlements,” she said.


The vote comes at an important time domestically for Abbas. His Hamas rivals, who control Gaza, have gained popularity after holding their own during an Israeli offensive there earlier this month, aimed at stopping frequent Gaza rocket fire on Israel.

During the Gaza offensive, Abbas was sidelined in his compound in the West Bank, underscoring international concerns that the deadlock in peace efforts is weakening Palestinian pragmatists. Hamas, which seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, argues that negotiations with Israel are a waste of time, but Hamas leaders have come out in support of the U.N. bid in recent days.


Other than creating leverage in negotiations, U.N. recognition would also allow the Palestinians to seek membership in U.N. agencies and international bodies, for example making them eligible for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Perhaps most significantly, it could open the door to a new attempt to join the International Criminal Court and seek an investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the occupied territories.


Abbas’ self-rule government, the Palestinian Authority, unilaterally recognized the court’s jurisdiction in 2009 and pressed prosecutors to open an investigation into Israel’s previous Gaza offensive. Prosecutors noted at the time that the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, is only open to states. Israel has not signed the statute and does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

Ashrawi on Wednesday avoided explicit threats to take Israel to court, but suggested it’s an option. “If Israel refrains from settlement activities ... there is no immediate pressing need to go,” she said, adding that this could change if “Israel persists in its violations.”

Israel would respond “forcefully” if the Palestinians try to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the ICC, said an Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss policy considerations. If the Palestinians use their upgraded international status “as a tool to confront Israel in the international arena, there will be a response,” he said.


Until then, he said, Israel will be bound by its obligations to the Palestinians under existing peace agreements, but won’t necessarily go beyond them. Earlier there was talk of Israel retaliating by canceling partial peace accords dating back to the 1990s.


In the West Bank, the view of Abbas’ quest for recognition was mixed. Many were bitter, saying they’ve heard too many promises that statehood is near and don’t believe a nod from the U.N. will make a difference.

“Nothing will come of it,” said Arwa Abu Helo, a 23-year-old student in Ramallah. “It’s just a way of misleading the public.”


Yousef Mohammed, a bank teller, said Abbas was trying to “gain the spotlight after Hamas said it won in Gaza.”

Hurriyeh Abdel Karim, 65, said she was willing to give Abbas a chance. “If he succeeds, maybe our life improves,” she said.

___

Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.

A general view of the unauthorized West Bank settlement outpost of Bruchin taken in July 2008. Israel legalized three more on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel legalized three unsanctioned West Bank settler outposts and was trying to save another on Tuesday, infuriating the Palestinians as the chief American Mideast envoy was in the region laboring to revive peace efforts.

The decision fueled suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition would try to legalize as many rogue settlement sites as possible to cement Israel’s hold on occupied land the Palestinians claim for a state.

Netanyahu faces stiff pressure from pro-settler hardliners within his own coalition to fend off legal challenges to the unauthorized construction. Some hardliners have even warned that the coalition, which until now has been remarkably stable, could unravel over the issue.

Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem as the core of their hoped-for state, and see all Israeli settlement as illegal encroachment on those lands. They have refused to restart peace talks until construction halts.

“We call upon the Israeli government to immediately stop all unilateral acts,” said senior Palestinian official Nabil Abu Rdeneh. “Netanyahu is pushing things into deadlock once again.”

A string of Israeli governments have pledged not to build any new settlements. But critics say the settler movement, with quiet support from the government, has used the outposts to grab more West Bank land. Dozens of clusters of houses or mobile homes dot the West Bank, in addition to more than 120 authorized settlements.

Netanyahu says the issue of settlements should be resolved through peace talks, which broke down more than three years ago over the settlement issue. Israel began settling the West Bank and east Jerusalem immediately after capturing them in the 1967 Mideast war, and 500,000 Jews now live there. The international community widely condemns the construction.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was concerned about the decision. “We have raised this with the Israeli government, and we are seeking clarification,” Nuland told reporters. “We don’t think this is helpful to the process, and we don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity,” she said.

The Israeli announcement came as U.S. envoy David Hale was in the region, on a new mission to restart negotiations.

The Israeli government’s formulation of its decision was that it was “formalizing the status” of Sansana, Bruchin and Rehalim, three longstanding enclaves that are home to hundreds of Jewish settlers.

A government official denied they were outposts, insisting their establishment was authorized by previous Israeli Cabinets. He said Monday night’s decision merely addressed technical and procedural issues and did not change the situation on the ground.

Despite the claim, two of the enclaves, Bruchin and Rehalim, were identified as unauthorized outposts in a 2005 government report. The Netanyahu government has reopened that report, saying the objectivity of its author, then-state prosecutor Talia Sasson, is now in question because she later joined an anti-settlement political party.

The official also acknowledged the third enclave, Sansana, was supposed to have been built within Israel proper.

In a related development, Netanyahu said Tuesday that he would ask Israel’s Supreme Court to defer next week’s deadline for demolishing five apartment buildings erected illegally in another unauthorized outpost.

The court has ruled that the buildings, which house 30 families in the Ulpana outpost outside Jerusalem, must be razed by May 1 because they were built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Netanyahu said his government is looking for “legal” ways to prevent the buildings from being demolished.

It is not clear if the court would agree to a delay. Decades ago, the court outlawed settlement construction on privately owned Palestinian land.

Netanyahu disclosed his plans in a set of rare interviews given to Israeli radio stations on the eve of Israel’s Memorial Day, which begins Tuesday night.

Some members of Israel’s ruling coalition have warned the government would fall if the buildings come down.

Printed on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 as: Israel legalizes settlements built on Palestinian lands

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, delivers a speech during his meeting with members of Experts Assembly in Tehran on Thursday. He welcomed President Barack Obama’s comments advocating diplomacy and not war as a solution to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

VIENNA — Three days of protracted negotiations held under the specter of war highlighted the diplomatic difficulties ahead for nations intent on ensuring that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.

In a statement Thursday that was less than dramatic, six world powers avoided any bitter criticism of Iran and said diplomacy — not war — is the best way forward.

The cautious wording that emerged from a weeklong meeting of the U.N. nuclear agency reflected more than a decision to tamp down the rhetoric after a steady drumbeat of warnings from Israel that the time was approaching for possible attacks on Iran to disrupt its nuclear program.

Indeed, the language was substantially milder than the tough approach sought by Washington and allies Britain, France and Germany at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board meeting. Agreement came only after tough negotiations with Russia and China.

That could spell trouble on any diplomatic path ahead.

Russia, China and the four Western nations have agreed to meet with Iran in another effort to seek a negotiated solution. But with East-West disagreements within the group greater than ever, it could be difficult for the six to act in coordination.

A previous series of talks between the six and Iran ended in failure, the last one more than a year ago in Istanbul, Turkey. But the issue of six-power unity was never tested during those talks, because Tehran refused even to consider discussing concessions on its nuclear program.

That could change as Russian and Chinese irritation grows with what the two consider unwarranted tough and unilateral sanctions recently imposed on Iran by Washington and the European Union. Tehran might try to exploit the rift by offering a compromise that Moscow and Beijing would likely welcome but the West would proclaim meaningless.

Thursday’s statement indicated that the West was willing to go some ways to maintain at least a semblance of six-power unity.

It refrained from calling out the Islamic Republic for refusing to cooperate with the IAEA’s probe of allegations that it secretly worked on components of a nuclear arms program.

Instead it put the onus both on Iran and the IAEA to “intensify their dialogue” to resolve the four-year standoff. And indirectly countering weeks of Israeli saber-rattling, it emphasized “continued support for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.”

Returning to Jerusalem from intensive talks in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will not allow Iran to obtain atomic bombs but prefers a peaceful solution to the issue

“I hope that Iran chooses to part from its nuclear program peacefully,” Netanyahu said, adding, “It is forbidden to let Iran arm itself with nuclear weapons, and I intend not to allow it.”

Israel and the U.S. agree that Iran is on a path that could eventually lead to the production of a nuclear weapon, but part ways over urgency: Netanyahu has seemed impatient with President Barack Obama’s statements that tough new economic sanctions imposed by the West be given time to work.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief IAEA delegate, condemned Israel’s “continuous threat of attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

In Tehran, Iran’s top leader welcomed comments by Obama advocating diplomacy as a solution in a rare positive signal from the head of a nation that regards Washington as its bitter foe.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Obama’s statement this week that he saw a “window of opportunity” to resolve the nuclear dispute.

Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, told a group of clerics: “This expression is a good word. This is a wise remark indicating taking distance from illusion.”

But Khamenei had criticism for Obama as well. The Iranian leader said the economic sanctions pushed by the U.S. and other nations as a way to get Iran to alter its nuclear program would “lead their calculations to failure.”

Asked about Khamenei’s remarks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “The president’s policy toward Iran is focused in a very clear-eyed way on Iranian behavior, certainly not on rhetoric of any kind.”

Ahead of the Vienna meeting, Washington and its European partners had hoped to send a firmer signal to Iran than even a tough joint statement would have.

They had sought a six-power resolution demanding compliance with U.N. Security Council demands for Tehran to end uranium enrichment and other programs that could be used for weapons purposes. A resolution passed by the IAEA board automatically goes to the Security Council and could serve as a potential springboard for new U.N. sanctions.

Instead, it took three days of horse trading — and a one-day adjournment Wednesday of the IAEA meeting — to agree on the watered-down text.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated that the United States continues “to believe that we have space for diplomacy ... coupled with very strong pressure in the form of the toughest sanctions the international community has ever imposed.”

U.S. chief IAEA delegate Robert Wood said the six nations arrived at “a very good statement after some constructive discussions.” But freed of the constraints of unity imposed on the group of six, his statement to the board reflected a much tougher line.

“While we remain committed to a diplomatic resolution to the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program ... we will not sit idle while a member state openly flouts its obligations and embarks on a path of deception and deceit,” he said.

Iran has steadfastly rejected demands to halt its uranium enrichment, which Washington and its allies worry could be the foundation for a future nuclear weapons program by providing the fissile core of nuclear weapons. Tehran claims it seeks only energy and medical research from its reactors, but it wants full control over the nuclear process from uranium ore to fuel rods.

It has also stonewalled an IAEA probe of suspected clandestine research and development into nuclear weapons for four years, dismissing the allegations as based on forged intelligence from the United States and Israel.

In a possible concession Tuesday, Tehran said agency experts could visit Parchin, a military facility that the IAEA suspects was used for secret atomic weapons work. An IAEA official, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue, dismissed the offer as a stalling tactic. IAEA inspectors were refused access to Parchin twice in recent weeks.

Concerns about Parchin are high. All Western statements, as well as the one issued Thursday by the six powers, have called on Iran to grant access to the facility.

Diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday said Iran was trying to clean up the site. They based their assessment on satellite images they said appeared to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles.

Two diplomats said their information reveals that Iran had experimented at the site with a test version of a neutron trigger used to set off a nuclear blast — information not previously made public.Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian chief delegate to the IAEA, described earlier diplomats’ reports of a test version of a neutron trigger as “a ridiculous and childish story.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens as President Barack Obama speaks during their meeting, Monday, March, 5, 2012, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Taking sharply different stands, President Barack Obama urged pressure and diplomacy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized his nation’s right to a pre-emptive attack. Even in proclaiming unity on Monday, the leaders showed no give on competing ways to resolve the crisis.

Seated together in the Oval Office, Obama and Netanyahu at times tried to speak for each other and sometimes spoke past one another. The two leaders are linked by the history and necessity of their nations’ deep alliance, if not much personal warmth, and they both used their moment to try to steer the agenda on their terms.

“I know that both the prime minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically,” Obama said. “We understand the costs of any military action.”

If he agreed, Netanyahu said nothing about sanctions or talks with Iran, or Obama’s position that there still is time to try to deter Iran peacefully.

Instead, Netanyahu drew attention back to Obama’s acknowledgement that Israel is a sovereign land that can protect itself how it sees fit.

“I believe that’s why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself,” Netanyahu said. “And, after all, that’s the very purpose of the Jewish state, to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny,” he said.

Israel, he added, must remain “the master of its fate.”

Across days of comments, speeches and interviews, Obama and Netanyahu left no doubt about where they stand on Iran. Far less clear is whether they have done anything to alter each other’s position in what has become a moment of reckoning over Iran, and an important foreign policy issue in the U.S. presidential race.

Obama’s aim is to dissuade Israel from launching what he considers to be a premature and dangerous attack on Iran.
The leaders spoke to the media at the start of their meeting, not at the end. That left no opportunity for them to reveal how their discussions went, and it reduced the possibility of repeating last year’s remarkably blunt scene.

When they last sat in the Oval Office, in May, Netanyahu lectured Obama in front of reporters as differences over Mideast peace unfolded.

This time, their body language as they spoke was not so glaring but still telling: Obama addressed the media around the room; Netanyahu spoke directly to Obama and locked on him.

Netanyahu said later Monday that Obama “understood Israel’s position” that it has the right to self-defense.

Both leaders see a nuclear-armed Iran as a nightmare that could threaten Israel’s survival and potentially allow terrorists to grab unthinkably deadly power. Their difference is not over whether force may be needed — Obama has been specific on his willingness to use it — but whether the time for such a drastic step is nearing.

Israel fears it may soon lose its window to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities; Obama sees a longer period for intervention, based on Iran’s current nuclear capability and the toll of growing sanctions. He has put increasing emphasis on the political, economic and potential death toll that could come with opening a new Mideast war.

There are other election-year stakes for Obama. He is under pressure from Republican rivals, and even some Democratic allies, over his backing for Israel. That perception, in turn, can play an important role in swing states such as Florida, where there are many Jewish voters, and in Obama’s ability to raise money for his campaign.

Obama often defends his pro-Israel record and sometimes bristles about being questioned about it. He declared his commitment anew with Netanyahu at his side.

“The United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security,” he said. Netanyahu took it further.
He said Americans know Israel is their only reliable democratic ally in the Mideast, and that Iran sees the two countries as inseparable enemies.

“For them, you’re the Great Satan, and we’re the Little Satan,” Netanyahu said. “For them, we are you and you’re us. And, you know something, Mr. President — at least on this last point, I think they’re right. We are you, and you are us. .... Israel and America stand together.”

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful. It has called for Israel’s destruction.

Although Israel says it hasn’t decided whether to strike Iran, it has signaled readiness to do so within the next several months. The United States sees a longer timeline to the moment when a military strike might be appropriate partly based on different views of when Iran would pose an imminent threat.

A senior Obama administration official said it would take upward of a year for Iran to build a working weapon once it started work on one. That was an unusually specific estimate and offered a window into the U.S. argument to Israel that the crisis with Iran is not as dire as some in Israel have painted it.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal internal thinking about Iran’s capabilities.

Netanyahu’s White House visit came as U.S. and Israeli politicians flocked to the annual conference of a prominent pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Netanyahu was to address the group Monday night; GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich will on Tuesday.

A top House Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, took some veiled shots at Obama’s Iran approach in addressing the AIPAC audience Monday.

“America’s role is not to put its hand on the scale and balance it against Israel,” Cantor said. “America’s role is to put its fist on the scale to weigh down the terrorism, fanaticism and anti-Semitism of Iran and its proxies. 

In this March 7, 2007, file photo, the Israeli army Heron TP drone, also known locally as the Eitan, flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israeli defense officials on Sunday confirmed $1.6 billion in deals to sell drones as well as anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, bringing sophisticated Israeli technology to the doorstep of archenemy Iran.

The sales by state-run Israel Aerospace Industries come at a delicate time. Israel has been laboring hard to form diplomatic alliances in a region that seems to be growing increasingly hostile to the Jewish state.

Its most pressing concern is Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli leaders have hinted broadly that they would be prepared to attack Iranian nuclear facilities if they see no other way to keep Tehran from building bombs.

Iran denies Israeli and Western claims it seeks to develop atomic weapons, and says its disputed nuclear program is designed to produce energy and medical isotopes.

In Jerusalem, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Iran’s nuclear program will take center stage in his upcoming talks with U.S. and Canadian leaders. Netanyahu is to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa on Friday and with President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday.

Speaking to the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said a U.N. nuclear agency report last week buttressed Israel’s warnings that Iran is trying to produce a nuclear bomb. The agency said Iran has rapidly ramped up production of higher-grade enriched uranium over the last few months.

Netanyahu said the report provided “another piece of incontrovertible evidence” that Iran is advancing rapidly with its nuclear program.

It was not clear whether the arms deal with Azerbaijan was connected to any potential Israeli planes to strike Iran. The Israeli defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not at liberty to discuss defense deals.

Danny Yatom, a former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, said the timing of the deal was likely coincidental. “Such a deal ... takes a long period of time to become ripe,” he told The Associated Press.

He said Israel would continue to sell arms to its friends. “If it will help us in challenging Iran, it is for the better,” he said.Israel’s ties with Azerbaijan, a Muslim country that became independent with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, have grown as its once-strong strategic relationship with another Iranian neighbor, Turkey, has deteriorated, most sharply over Israel’s killing of nine Turks aboard a ship that sought to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010.

For Israeli intelligence, there is also a possible added benefit from Azerbaijan: Its significant cross-border contacts and trade with Iran’s large ethnic Azeri community.

For that same reason, as Iran’s nuclear showdown with the West deepens, the Islamic Republic sees the Azeri frontier as a weak point, even though both countries are mostly Shiite Muslim.

Earlier this month, Iran’s foreign ministry accused Azerbaijan of allowing the Israeli spy agency Mossad to operate on its territory and providing a corridor for “terrorists” to kill members of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Azerbaijan dismissed the Iranian claims as “slanderous lies.” Israeli leaders have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.

Israel, meanwhile, recently claimed authorities foiled Iranian-sponsored attacks against Israeli targets in Azerbaijan. Such claims have precedents: In 2008, Azeri officials said they thwarted a plot to explode car bombs near the Israeli Embassy; two Lebanese men were later convicted in the bombing attempt. A year earlier, Azerbaijan convicted 15 people in connection with an alleged Iranian-linked spy network accused of passing intelligence on Western and Israeli activities.

Iran has denied Azerbaijan’s latest charges of plotting to kill Israelis, but a diplomatic rupture is unlikely. Azerbaijan is an important pathway for Iranian goods in the Caucasus region and both nations have signed accords among Caspian nations on energy, environmental and shipping policies.

NEW DELHI — Israel blamed Iran on Monday for bomb attacks on its diplomats’ cars in India and Georgia, heightening concerns that the Jewish state was moving closer to striking its archenemy.

Iran denied responsibility for the attacks that appeared to mirror the recent killings of Iranian nuclear scientists that Tehran blamed on Israel.

The blast in New Delhi set a car ablaze and injured four people, including an Israeli Embassy driver and a diplomat’s wife; the device in Georgia was discovered and safely defused.

“Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud Party.

The violence added further tension to one of the globe’s most contentious standoffs. Iran has been accused of developing a nuclear weapons program that Israel says threatens the existence of the Jewish state. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Comments by Israeli officials in recent weeks have raised fears Israel might be preparing to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. While Israel says it hopes that international sanctions can curb Iran’s nuclear program, leaders pointedly note that “all options are on the table” and have warned that as Iran moves closer to weapons capability, time is running out for action. Fearing an Israeli attack could set off a conflict across the region and send oil prices skyrocketing, U.S. and other Western countries have been pressing Israel to give sanctions more time.

Israeli military analyst Reuven Pedatzur said Monday’s action was unlikely to have any bearing on whether Israel attacks Iran, calling it an “isolated incident” with rather low impact.

The attackers in India and Georgia appeared to have used “sticky bombs” attached to cars by magnets, similar to weapons used against Iran’s nuclear officials. Netanyahu said Israel had thwarted attacks in recent months in Azerbaijan and Thailand and unspecified other countries.

“In all those cases, the elements behind these attacks were Iran and its protege, Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iran’s Lebanese proxy. He vowed to “act with a strong hand against international terror.”

Israeli media reported that the government blamed Iran based on prior intelligence and that security officials feared this could be the start of a wave of attacks against Israeli targets overseas.

Iranian officials rejected Netanyahu’s accusation.

“This accusation is within the Zionist regime’s psychological war against Iran,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.

“The Zionist regime, due to repeated crimes against humanity, is the main party accused of terrorist activities,” he said.The New Delhi attack took place just after 3 p.m. a few hundred yards (meters) from the prime minister’s residence as the diplomat’s wife headed to the American Embassy School to pick up her children, said Delhi Police Commissioner B.K. Gupta.

When the minivan approached a crossing, she noticed a motorcyclist ride up and stick something on it that appeared to be a magnetic device, he said. The car drove a short distance, there was a loud sound and then an explosion, and the car caught fire, he said.

“It was a loud explosion. We realized it’s not a firecracker, but an explosion, and rushed toward the car,” said Ravi Singh, owner of a nearby gas station.

The blast left the vehicle charred and appeared to blow out its rear door.

“The blast was so powerful, the car behind got damaged as well,” said Monu, a high school student who uses only one name.

The Israeli Defense Ministry said the woman, Tal Yehoshua-Koren, the wife of a Defense Ministry official based in New Delhi, suffered moderate shrapnel wounds and was treated at a hospital by Israeli doctors.

Her driver, Manoj Sharma, 42, and two people in a nearby car had minor injuries, Gupta said.

Israeli diplomats in India have been on constant alert since Pakistan-based militants rampaged across the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, targeting luxury hotels, a train station and the Chabad Jewish community center.

India’s foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, said India would cooperate closely with Israel in the investigation and promised to bring the assailants to justice.

“I have just spoken to the Israeli foreign minister,” he said. “I assured him that the law of the land will take its course.”

Authorities in the former Soviet republic of Georgia said an explosive device was planted on the car of a driver for the Israeli Embassy in the capital of Tbilisi.

Shota Utiashvili, spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry, said the driver noticed a package on his car’s undercarriage and called police, who found and defused a grenade.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attacks.

“The United States places a high priority on the safety and security of diplomatic personnel around the world and we stand ready to assist with any investigation of these cowardly actions,” she said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the incidents underscore U.S. concerns about the recent targeting of Israeli interests overseas. He added that Washington does not yet have information on who is responsible for the attack but stands ready to help the investigations.

Iranian lawmaker Javad Jahangirzadeh was quoted by the semiofficial Mehr news agency as saying the Israeli charges were meant to provoke the world against Iran and to undermine upcoming nuclear talks between Tehran and the world powers.

Another lawmaker, Avaz Heidarpour, was quoted by Mehr as saying Netanyahu’s allegations were an attempt by Israel to justify future operations against Iran.

“It’s very likely that the Zionist regime is paving the way to carry out an assassination abroad or hit inside Iran. So, they are making preparations for that,” Mehr quoted him as saying.

Hezbollah and Iran have deep grievances against Israel.

Hezbollah battled Israel in a monthlong war in 2006. On Sunday, the Lebanese guerrilla group marked the anniversary of the 2008 assassination of one of its commanders, Imad Mughniyeh, in a bombing widely believed to have been carried out by Israel. Iran has been widely suspected of looking for payback for the covert plots against its nuclear program it has blamed on Israel’s spy agency Mossad and Western allies.

“There have been all kinds of mysterious things happening in Iran, and it could be an Iranian counterattack,” said Mike Herzog, a retired Israeli general and former top aide to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “It’s no secret that Iran uses Hezbollah globally, and Hezbollah has the capacity to carry out attacks around the globe.”

Iran and Hezbollah also could be trying to divert attention away from ally Syria’s crackdown on protesters.

Were Iran found to be behind the New Delhi attack, it would be a stunning action against one of its more reliable allies.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has resisted U.S. and European Union pressure to curtail trade with Iran over the nuclear issue. Energy-starved India relies heavily on Iranian oil imports, and the two countries are working to find creative ways for India to circumvent banking restrictions to pay for the oil by using rupees and investing in Iranian infrastructure projects.

Israel has urged the international community to consider all means, including military action, to stop Tehran.

Last month, a director of Iran’s main uranium enrichment site was killed in a blast from a magnetic bomb placed on his car, at least the fifth member of Iran’s scientific community killed in apparent targeted attacks in two years.

In a signal Iran could retaliate, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the spokesman for Iran’s Joint Armed Forces Staff, was quoted by the semiofficial news agency ISNA last month as saying that Tehran was “reviewing the punishment” of “behind-the-scene elements” involved in the assassination.

“Iran’s response will be a tormenting one for supporters of state terrorism,” he said. “The enemies of the Iranian nation, especially the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime, or Israel, have to be held responsible for their activities.”

Clinton categorically denied any U.S. link to an “act of violence inside Iran.” Israel has made no direct comments about Iran’s accusations of covert operations, but some officials have made provocative hints that Tehran’s many foes could have an interest in efforts to destabilize its nuclear program.

Iran also has blamed the U.S. and allies for a sophisticated computer virus, known as Stuxnet, that was programmed to disrupt the centrifuges used in uranium enrichment. Iran said the virus was detected in its systems, but added there were no serious setbacks.

In January, a foreign suspect with alleged links to Hezbollah militants led Thai police to a warehouse filled with materials commonly used to make bombs.

In 1992, a bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people. Two years later, a bombing at a Jewish community center there killed 85 people. Argentines have long suspected high-level Iranian diplomats were involved in the 1994 bombing.
 

AMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — After months of wavering, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took a decisive step Monday toward reconciliation with the Islamic militant group Hamas, a move Israel promptly warned would close the door to any future peace talks.

In a deal brokered by Qatar, Abbas will head an interim unity government to prepare for general elections in the Palestinian territories in the coming months. The agreement appeared to bring reconciliation — key to any statehood ambitions — within reach for the first time since the two sides set up rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007.

Monday’s deal, signed in the Qatari capital of Doha by Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, put an end to recent efforts by the international community to revive long-stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the terms of Palestinian statehood. Abbas appears to have concluded that he has a better chance of repairing relations with Hamas, shunned by the West as a terror group, than reaching an agreement with Israel’s hardline prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu quickly condemned the Doha deal. “It’s either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can’t have them both,” he said in a warning to Abbas, who has enjoyed broad international support.

In moving closer to Hamas, Abbas risks losing some of that backing and hundreds of millions of dollars a year in aid.

Qatar, awash with cash from vast oil and gas reserves, assured the Palestinians that it would help limit any political and financial damages, according to Palestinian officials close to the talks.

Whether the Palestinian Authority loses any of the roughly $1 billion in foreign aid it received each year may partly depend on the interim government’s political platform and Hamas’ willingness to stay in the background.

The new government is to be made up of politically independent experts, according to the Doha agreement. If headed by Abbas, devoid of Hamas members and run according to his political principles, it could try to make a case to be accepted by the West. Abbas aides said they were optimistic they could win international recognition.

The Quartet of international Mideast mediators — the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia — has said it would deal with any Palestinian government that renounces violence, recognizes Israel and supports a negotiated peace deal. Abbas has embraced these principles, while Hamas rejects them.

Top Abbas aides Nabil Shaath and Azzam al-Ahmed said they are confident the new government will be based on the Quartet principles. In any case, they said, the interim government’s focus will be to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections, not to negotiate with Israel. Such elections won’t be held in May, as initially envisioned, they said, but could take place several months later.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was seeking more information about what was agreed, and that reconciliation was an internal matter for Palestinians.

“What matters to us are the principles that guide a Palestinian government going forward, in order for them to be able to play a constructive role for peace and building an independent state,” Nuland said.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence,” she said. “It must recognize the state of Israel. And it must accept the previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the road map. So those are our expectations.”

Nuland declined to say if the Fatah-Hamas arrangement would advance or hurt peace talks with Israel. She also appeared hesitant to address Netanyahu’s warning to Abbas that the Palestinians can have “peace with Hamas or peace with Israel.”

“We maintain that both of these parties ought to stay committed to this process,” Nuland told reporters.

The European Union offered qualified support Monday, saying it considers Palestinian reconciliation and elections as important steps toward Mideast peace. The EU, a major financial backer of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, “looks forward to continuing its support,” provided the new government meets the Quartet demands, said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Last year, Abbas and Mashaal struck a reconciliation deal that later became bogged down in disagreement over who would head an interim government. Hamas strongly opposed Abbas’ initial choice of Salam Fayyad, the head of his Palestinian Authority.

Fayyad, an economist who is widely respected in the West, said Monday he welcomed the new deal even though it would cost him a job he has held since 2007.

The breakthrough came after two days of meetings between Abbas and Mashaal, hosted by Qatar’s emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. After the signing, Abbas said that “we promise our people to implement this agreement as soon as possible.”

Mashaal also said he was serious “about healing the wounds ... to reunite our people on the foundation of a political partnership, in order to devote our effort to resisting the (Israeli) occupation.”

Abbas and Hamas have had bitter ideological differences, with Abbas pursuing a deal with Israel and the violently anti-Israel Hamas dismissing such talks as a waste of time. The rift deepened with Hamas’ 2007 takeover of Gaza, which left Abbas with only the West Bank.

However, some of those differences seem to have narrowed in recent months.

Abbas has lost faith in reaching a deal, at least with Netanyahu. Low-level Israeli-Palestinian border talks last month — an attempt by the international community to revive formal negotiations after more than three years of paralysis — only highlighted the vast gaps.

The Palestinians want the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, with minor border adjustments, for their state. Israel’s outline of a border deal, presented last month, meant it wants to keep east Jerusalem and large chunks of the West Bank, not enough concessions to keep Abbas engaged.

Mashaal, meanwhile, has been prodding Hamas toward a more pragmatic stance that is closer to that of the group’s parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood scored election victories in Egypt and Tunisia in the wake of the pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring, and has urged Hamas to moderate and reconcile with Abbas.

However, Mashaal represents Hamas in exile and appears to have had differences with the movement’s more hardline leadership in Gaza, which stands to lose influence and jobs in a reconciliation deal. Some of the Gaza leaders have resisted Mashaal’s push for unity and moving closer to the Brotherhood, Hamas officials have said privately.

It remains unclear how much resistance Mashaal will now face from the Gaza leaders of the movement. One of the biggest challenges of reconciliation — how to blend the two sides’ separate security forces — remains unresolved.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, said he welcomed the agreement. Initial reports that a Hamas delegation from Gaza went to Doha were incorrect. The delegation headed to Cairo.

The agreement calls for rebuilding Gaza, which has been largely cut off from the world as part of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade imposed after the Hamas takeover. The blockade was eased in the past year, but not enough to revive the Gaza economy, including the vital construction industry, and many large-scale projects remain on hold.

Qatar is willing to spend as much as $10 billion to help repair the damage of the rift, including settling mutual grievances by supporters of Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement who at the height of tensions fought bloody street battles, the Palestinian officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the closed-door meetings with reporters. The figure could not be confirmed independently.

Al-Ahmed and Shaath, the Abbas aides, said they expect the composition of the new government to be announced during a Feb. 18 meeting of Palestinian political factions in Cairo.

They said Abbas would set an election date 90 days after the Central Elections Commissions has updated voter records in Gaza, a process that could take several weeks. The initial reconciliation pact envisioned elections in May, but this is no longer realistic, the aides said. Shaath said he believes the voting could take place by July.