The forum of seven senior ministers decided Thursday it would not hold peace talks with a joint Fatah-Hamas government, which is expected to be established after the two rivals declare reconciliation.
The decision contrasted a statement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier in the day, who said that his government would continue to pursue peace negotiations with Israel despite the truce agreement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the other ministers of the forum held a number of consultations Thursday on developments in the Palestinian Authority's leadership, at the end of which they decided not to hold talks with any government of which Hamas is a part.
"If the situation changes and Hamas alters its ways and recognizes Israel, then we'll see," a political source said. "In the meantime there will be no talks or negotiations with the Palestinians until the picture becomes clearer."
In an interview with Channel 10 news Thursday evening, Hamas spokesman Mahmoud al-Zahar belittled Israeli intelligence agencies for failing to detect that a deal between the rival factions was in the works.
Al-Zahar described the covert talks in Cairo that led to the deal, which Cabinet ministers have said passed somehow "under the radar". He said the delegations had visited Cairo, Sudan, and Damascus in the past month.
"In order to refrain from repeating past failures, everything was conducted far from the media's eye, but it did not come from nowhere," he said.
Netanyahu expressed outrage Wednesday with the deal formed in Cairo, and said Abbas must decide on "either peace with us or with Hamas".
President Shimon Peres also called on Abbas not to sign a deal with Hamas. "The agreement between Fatah and the terrorist organization of Hamas is a fatal mistake which will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and destroy the chances of achieving peace and stability in the region," he said.
Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni expressed reservation about the deal as well. "It is still unclear what the terms of this agreement will be, but the test of the Palestinian government will be the acceptance of the international community's conditions," she said. "A Palestinian government will have to accept the Quartet's conditions if it intends to keep peace with Israel."
But the Palestinian president said Thursday that "the new government and the peace talks are two different things." On the case of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Abbas said that Fatah "expressed sympathy and have spared no efforts in trying to release him. So have the Egyptians. His family is suffering, but please remember that we have 8,000 prisoners. We are not comparing the two cases, but our case is important, too."