US defends ties with Palestinian unity government

Amid furious Israeli criticism, State Dep’t says Abbas’s new cabinet includes no members affiliated with Hamas, Washington will judge it by its actions

US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf (screen capture: Youtube)
US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf (screen capture: Youtube)

The US State Department on Tuesday defended the Obama administration’s decision to work with the new Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government, noting the new cabinet contains no actual members of the Hamas movement. Israel has castigated the US over its position, arguing that by maintaining ties with a government supported by a terror group, the US was indicating to PA President Mahmoud Abbas that it was okay to “form a government with a terrorist group.”

In a briefing with reporters, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf reiterated statements made a day earlier by spokeswoman Jen Psaki that the US would keep working with the Palestinian unity government on account of the fact that it didn’t include members of Hamas and that it agreed to abide by its commitments to nonviolence, negotiations, recognition of the state of Israel, and previous agreements.

“They embraced the principles that we said up here at the podium before they formed the government and said they needed to embrace,” Harf said. “The Quartet principles, nonviolence, recognition of Israel – they did all of those things. We were very clear about what they needed to do, and they did.”

The unity government, she said, “does not include any ministers affiliated with Hamas… They are all technocrats unaffiliated with any political party and are responsible for facilitating new elections.” She emphasized that Washington’s position on Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization, had not changed.

“The United States does not and will not provide it assistance. Per longstanding US policy, we do not have any contact with Hamas,” she said.

“To be clear, moving forward, we will be judging this technocratic government by its actions,” said Harf. “We will be watching closely to ensure that it upholds those principles, and we will continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new technocratic government and calibrate our approach accordingly.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed concern over the United States’ willingness to work with a Palestinian government which includes Hamas.

“I’m deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas,” Netanyahu told The Associated Press, saying the group has murdered “countless innocent civilians.”

“All those who genuinely seek peace must reject President Abbas’s embrace of Hamas, and most especially, I think the United States must make it absolutely clear to the Palestinian president that his pact with Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s liquidation, is simply unacceptable,” he said.

Attempting to calm tensions between Washington and Jerusalem on the issue, Harf said that “the United States and Israel have a long, historic, and unshakeable friendship, period, over many, many decades, over many administrations, through a lot of difficult times. And I think what we’ve been very clear is that relationship’s not going to change.”

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