State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki on Wednesday blasted the announcement, made earlier in the day by top Palestinian figures including Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, that the rival Fatah and Hamas factions had settled on an agreement that would among other things lead to the establishment of a new government including members of both groups. Questions from journalists at State’s afternoon press conference revolved around how the U.S. viewed the move – Psaki’s broadly reported response was that Washington was “disappointed” – and what its likely effects would be on a U.S.-backed Israeli-Palestinian peace push:
MS. PSAKI: — this afternoon or this morning as well – I realize it’s afternoon. But I think the Secretary and we all understand it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist. And that is one of the principles that’s long been expected.
A unified Palestinian government that fulfills the terms of past Palestinian agreements is widely considered to be a vital prerequisite to successful peace talks. A government that abrogates those past agreements – specifically by refusing to renounce violence and recognize of Israel – would in contrast be seen as confirming the worst scenarios of peace process skeptics.
The land-for-peace formula has always required the Israelis to give up tangible, functionally irreversible concessions in exchange for Palestinian promises on issues such as the renunciation of violence and recognition. Abandoning those commitments would be seen as a confirmation that Palestinian negotiators were negotiating to extract maximum concessions, until they could pocket them and walk away from the table.
Statements made in recent weeks by Palestinian leaders, as well as some made in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s announcement, hint that the government being envisioned will not be one that considers itself bound by past agreements.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declared two weeks ago that Hamas “is not a terrorist organization,” and remarks published late Wednesday by a top Hamas official explicitly declared that the Iran-backed group would not be altering its commitment to the eradication of the Jewish state:
Events took another surprising turn this afternoon when top Hamas official Hassan Yousef announced that the terror group would not renounce its commitment to violence and the destruction of Israel, according to Palestinian groups monitoring the situation.
Hamas will not recognize Israel—a chief sticking point in peace talks with Abbas—and “will not give up the resistance,” which is widely interpreted to refer to Hamas’s ongoing terror attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel.
Commenting on public statements by Abbas that a unity government with Hamas would not be in tension with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Rebecca Shabad, a political and foreign affairs reporter for The Hill, tersely tweeted “fat chance.”
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