TEL AVIV — A senior official in the White House reportedly said the US would cooperate with a soon-to-be-formed Palestinian unity government, despite Israeli opposition.
A unity government is set to be established within a week by Fatah, which controls the West Bank’s Palestinian areas, and Hamas, the terrorist group that governs Gaza. United States policy is not to work with Hamas unless it recognizes Israel, commits to nonviolence and abides by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Although it will have Hamas’s support, the new government will be made up of technocrats, rather than representatives of Hamas or Fatah. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the new government will abide by the conditions mandated by the US.
An anonymous senior White House official told the Haaretz newspaper on Tuesday that the US would work with the new government as long as it abides by the conditions, even if it has Hamas’s support. A meeting of 28 European Union foreign ministers last week took a similar position.
“We want a Palestinian government that upholds those principles,” the White House official told Haaretz. “In terms of how they build this government, we are not able to orchestrate that for the Palestinians. We are not going to be able to engineer every member of this government.”
When the Palestinian factions announced the unity agreement in April, the Israeli government announced that it would not negotiate with any government backed by Hamas.
Israel and the US have been at odds over the collapse of the peace talks last month, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman saying over the weekend that the US was mistaken for blaming Israel’s continued settlement activity for the breakdown.
Addressing recent reports that US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy Martin Indyk have all primarily blamed the settlements for the failure, Liberman said Israel and the US are great friends and that “even good friends are [sometimes] mistaken.”
“The Americans are mistaken on the settlements. Just like they were mistaken when pushing for Palestinian elections [in 2006, which saw Hamas rise to power]. The settlements are not an obstacle to peace and never have been,” Liberman charged.
Commenting on a meeting Thursday between Israel’s chief negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Abbas in London, Liberman said Livni was “entitled to meet with whomever she wished,” and insisted that she was in London mainly on other business and not for continued efforts for peace. “There was a cabinet decision to halt talks, which Livni supported,” Liberman said.
In the wake of the Palestinian unity pact last month, Israel’s key security cabinet, of which Livni is a member, voted unanimously to suspend negotiations with the PA, saying Israel could not hold peace talks with a government supported by Hamas, an Islamic terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction.
On Saturday, the US State Department denied allegations that Kerry’s envoy Indyk “bashed” Israel during a private conversation at a hotel bar in Washington earlier this month, and blamed Israel solely for the failure in peace talks.
Indyk criticized both sides for the failed peace talks in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy earlier this month. Days earlier, a feature in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, reportedly based on a briefing by Indyk, quoted unnamed US officials offering a withering assessment of Netanyahu’s handling of the negotiations, indicated that Abbas has completely given up on the prospect of a negotiated solution, and warned Israel that the Palestinians will achieve statehood come what may — either via international organizations or through violence. The officials highlighted Netanyahu’s ongoing settlement construction as the issue “largely to blame” for the failure of Kerry’s July 2013-April 2014 effort to broker a permanent peace accord.
On Thursday, The New York Times published an article, quoting an unnamed US senior official, saying that Obama believes, more than any other factor, that Israeli announcements of construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem throughout the nine months of talks led to the negotiations’ collapse.
In July 2013, Kerry coaxed the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after a three-year hiatus, and both sides agreed to keep talking for nine months. That period expired at the end of April, and the talks collapsed with each side blaming the other for major breaches of the negotiating agreements.