The United States on Monday said it welcomes efforts for the Palestinian Authority to resume control over government institutions in the Gaza Strip after the PA premier arrived in the Hamas-controlled enclave earlier in the day for a cabinet meeting. But it made clear there would be no dealing with a Palestinian government including Hamas unless or until the terror group recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism.
“As the Palestinian Authority Cabinet visits Gaza today in preparation for its October 3 cabinet meeting, the United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza,” Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s envoy for Middle East, said in a statement.
“We will be watching these developments closely, while pressing forward with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and international donors to try to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” he added.
While not explicitly mentioning Hamas, with which the Fatah-dominated PA has recently reached a tentative reconciliation deal in principle, Greenblatt reiterated the so-called Quartet Principles that the terror group must meet in order for a government it sits in to receive diplomatic recognition.
“The United States stresses that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.
The statement’s call for any Palestinian government including Hamas to adhere to the demands of the Quartet, which is made up demands of the US, Russia, the European Union and United Nations, came after a top Hamas leader said last week the US was ending its opposition to a Hamas-Fatah unity government despite the terror group’s refusal to accede to the principles.
Israeli officials reportedly fear that a rapprochement between the groups will lead to Hamas gaining a veneer of legitimacy, making it more difficult to fight the terror group, which will stay armed, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.
In a significant concession, Hamas has offered to turn over all governing responsibilities to PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. His ministers are expected to begin taking over government ministries on Tuesday, with negotiations in Cairo to cover more difficult issues in the coming weeks.
While Hamas is eager to give up its governing responsibilities, officials say the group will not give up its arsenal of thousands of rockets and mortars aimed at Israel.
Officials close to PA President Mahmoud Abbas say he will not agree to allow Hamas to become like Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group that dominates its country’s politics. The sides will have to find a formula that not only is acceptable to them but which Israel would be willing to tolerate.
Arriving in Gaza on Monday as part of Fatah and Hamas’ attempt to end their bitter 10-year rift, Hamdallah received a hero’s welcome from thousands of people.
Hamdallah, representing Abbas’ Fatah party, was joined by dozens of top officials, aides and security men on the trip from the West Bank through Israel and into Gaza to meet with the Hamas officials. It is by far the most ambitious attempt at reconciliation since Hamas seized power of the coastal strip in 2007.
The sides exchanged smiles, handshakes and pleasantries — a reflection of the changed climate that has ripened conditions for reconciliation after other failed attempts. But difficult negotiations lie ahead, and key sticking points, particularly who will control Hamas’ vast weapons arsenal, could easily derail the effort.
Well-wishers surrounded Hamdallah’s car as it entered Gaza through the Israeli-controlled Erez border crossing, and dozens of Palestinian youths gathered alongside a barbed-wire fence to glimpse the welcoming ceremony. Some waved Palestinian or yellow Fatah flags, and many chanted Hamdallah’s name.
“The only way to statehood is through unity,” Hamdallah told the crowd of about 2,000. “We are coming to Gaza again to deepen the reconciliation and end the split.”
Conditions in Gaza have deteriorated greatly in a decade of Hamas rule, and the feeling of hope by desperate residents was palpable Monday.
Thousands lined the streets to watch Hamdallah’s 30-vehicle convoy. The crowd forced the delegation to delay its first meeting at the home of the top Fatah official in Gaza and instead take a break at a beachside hotel.
Dozens of vehicles later returned to the Shejayeh neighborhood for the lunch. Hamas’ top leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Yehiyeh Sinwar, said next to Hamdallah and West Bank security chief Majed Faraj.
Hamas ousted the Fatah-led forces of the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in the summer of 2007, leaving the Palestinians torn between rival governments on opposite sides of Israel. Hamas has ruled Gaza, while Abbas’ party has controlled autonomous enclaves in the West Bank.
Abbas seeks both territories, along with East Jerusalem, for a Palestinian state, and the division is a major obstacle to any possible peace deal. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, although it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
While previous reconciliation attempts have failed, years of international isolation and steadily worsening conditions in Gaza have pushed Hamas toward compromise.