Jerusalem on Monday night slammed the United States for announcing that it will work with the new Palestinian unity government, sworn in earlier Monday. In strikingly bitter comments, officials said that rather than cooperating with a government backed by a terror group, Washington ought to be urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to disband his pact with Hamas and resume peace negotiations with Israel.
“We are deeply disappointed by the comments of the State Department regarding working with the Palestinian unity government. This Palestinian government is a government backed by Hamas, which is a terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction,” Israeli government officials said. “If the US administration wanted to advance peace, it should be calling on Abbas to end his pact with Hamas and return to peace talks with Israel,” they added. “Instead, it is enabling Abbas to believe that it is acceptable to form a government with a terrorist organization.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment on the record. Earlier Monday, Israel’s senior ministers decided to boycott the new government, since it is backed by Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by Israel and the US.
Earlier on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US believes Abbas has “formed an interim technocratic government…that does not include members affiliated with Hamas.” Therefore, she added, “With what we know now, we will work with this government.”
Psaki did say, however, that Washington “will continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new government and if needed we’ll modify our approach.” She later added that the administration would be “watching carefully to make sure” that the unity government upholds the principles that serve as preconditions for continuing US aid to the PA.
Psaki’s announcement was a major surprise to Israeli leaders; sources in Washington had been quoted in Israel in recent days saying the US would not immediately recognize the new PA government.
As recently as Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry called Abbas and “expressed concern about Hamas’s role in any such government and the importance that the new government commit to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements with it,” Psaki had said.
Earlier Monday, Kerry discussed the recent developments in a phone call with Netanyahu. State Department officials would not discuss the content of the conversation, or comment on whether the US administration’s announcement had come as a surprise to the Israeli government.
Asked if Israel would agree to return to the negotiating table after it suspended the talks in April, she said that would be up to the Israeli government to decide.
“It is ultimately up to the parties … to make the difficult decisions about coming to the negotiating table,” Psaki said. “So we will see. We are not in a position to make a prediction at this point.”
Psaki said that the United States is open to the current plan set out by the interim PA unity government, according to which long-delayed elections in the Palestinian Authority will be held in six months’ time.
“As a matter of principle we support democratic free and fair elections,” Psaki said, but added that “it is too early to speculate as to what the outcome will be and we will let events proceed.”
The State Department spokeswoman commented that although the US continues to expect Abbas to uphold his commitment to maintaining security coordination with Israel, Hamas’s support for the current government did not change the American perspective on culpability for rocket attacks launched toward Israeli targets from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
“We expect the PA to do everything in its power to prevent attacks from Gaza, but we understand that [the] Gaza Strip is under the control of Hamas,” Psaki explained.
Earlier, in Ramallah, Abbas swore in 17 ministers in a new technocratic government meant to steer the PA toward elections within six months.
The Israeli cabinet, meanwhile, said on Monday it would boycott the new PA government and hold it responsible for any rockets fired at Israel from Gaza.
In a decision approved at a special meeting of the Ministerial Committee for National Security Affairs, Netanyahu and eight top ministers said they would not deal with the new government and would form a team to “examine courses of action” in light of the new Palestinian unity government.
Abbas swore in the ministers Monday afternoon after Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Abbas’s Fatah resolved a last-minute disagreement over a key government ministry.
He hailed the “end” of Palestinian division, saying: “Today, with the formation of a national consensus government, we announce the end of a Palestinian division that has greatly damaged our national case.”
Abbas has pledged that the new administration will abide by the principles laid down by the Middle East peace Quartet that call for recognizing Israel, rejecting violence and abiding by all existing agreements, though Hamas has yet to ratify those conditions.
AFP, Elhanan Miller and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.