Washington ‘disappointed’ by Palestinian unity move

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki warns Hamas refusal to recognize Israel complicates talks; says ‘ball is in Palestinian court’

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (YouTube, screen capture)
US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (YouTube, screen capture)

WASHINGTON — The announcement of a Hamas-Fatah unity plan was greeted coolly in Washington Wednesday, with State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki describing the news as “disappointing in terms of the content as well as the timing.”

Speaking shortly after Israel announced that it was canceling the latest meeting in the effort to resolve the ongoing crisis in the peace talks, Psaki said that the State Department understood why Israel found it difficult to continue negotiating following the announcement.

“It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to sit down and negotiate with a group that denies its right to exist,” Psaki told reporters. She said that the State Department believes that a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation would “certainly complicate the process.”

Psaki delineated a number of principles which the United States sees as fundamental to participation in peace talks, including a commitment to non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel and willingness to uphold all previous commitments and agreements made in the framework of the peace process. She said US officials had conveyed the message to Ramallah.

“The ball is in the Palestinians’ court to answer whether the principles that have been part of the process can be met,” she said. “Historically Hamas has not shown a willingness to abide by the basic principles expected by the US government.”

An Israeli government official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned US Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday night to complain about the unity deal, saying Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was not interested in peace. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman earlier said the unity deal could mean the end of peace talks.

Kerry, Psaki said, had not spoken to Abbas since the announcement. Psaki would not say whether the US would be willing to continue to serve as an interlocutor should Hamas join the Palestinian government and thus become a party to the negotiations.

The US considers Hamas a terror organization. Israeli reports citing US officials Wednesday indicated the PA could lose US funding should Hamas join without moderating its positions and renouncing non-violence.

Psaki said similar announcements regarding a Hamas-Fatah unity government had been heard before. “These announcements have been made in the past but we are going to see what kinds of clarifications come from the ground,” she said.

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