"How can you be for peace with Israel and peace with Hamas that calls for our destruction?" Mr. Netanyahu said. "Can you imagine a peace deal with al-Qaeda? Of course not."

Israel’s prime minister has criticized Palestinian efforts for national unity in an interview with the U.S. cable news channel CNN, suggesting Palestinian moderates must choose either peace with Israel or reconciliation with Hamas militants.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments late Thursday came a day after the Palestinians’ Western—backed president, Mahmoud Abbas, offered to visit Hamas—ruled Gaza and form a new government with his bitter rivals from the Iran—backed group.

“How can you be for peace with Israel and peace with Hamas that calls for our destruction?” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Can you imagine a peace deal with al—Qaeda? Of course not.”

Israeli—Palestinian peace talks have been on hold since September, when a 10—month Israeli freeze of new settlement construction expired and Mr. Abbas halted the negotiations, saying he would not negotiate with Israel while building continued.

The Palestinians have been divided internally since Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 and then overran Mr. Abbas’ forces in Gaza in 2007, leaving Mr. Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in control only of the West Bank.

The rift is a major obstacle to the Palestinian objective of establishing an independent state incorporating both territories.

Both sides are under pressure to resolve their differences from tens of thousands of Palestinians who have been holding demonstrations inspired by the pro—democracy uprisings across the Middle East.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have failed, however, and chances for an agreement soon are seen as slim.

Adding to the complications, the U.S. and Europe, which give Mr. Abbas’ administration hundreds of millions of dollars in aid every year, consider Hamas a terrorist organization and are unlikely to support a government that includes the group.

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