President Barack Obama on Friday told reporters in Seoul that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction had been “unhelpful” in moving earlier in the week to pursue an agreement with the rival Hamas faction that would among other things see the formation of a unity government filled with members of both groups:
“The fact that recently President Abbas took the unhelpful step of rejoining talks with Hamas is just one of a series of choices that both Israel and the Palestinians have made which are not conducive to solving this crisis,” Obama said.
“There comes a point at which there just needs to be a pause and both sides need to look at the alternatives.”
Top U.S. officials quickly evaluated that the declaration severely undermined the peace process – State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday no fewer than four times that Israel could not be “expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist” – and the Israelis had subsequently suspended peace talks pending firm information about the composition of the new Palestinian government. At stake is the degree to which a Palestinian unity cabinet will meet the PA’s formal obligations to Israel, including a renunciation of violence and a recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas figures had indicated earlier in the week and through Friday that a unity deal would not see them meeting such obligations, which Jerusalem had secured over the course of decades by making functionally irreversible territorial and security concessions, while Abbas has been insisting that the unity government would meet those commitments.
Top U.S. and other Western diplomats – including Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, European Union foreign policy chiefs Catherine Ashton and Javier Solana, Middle East Envoy Tony Blair, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – have consistently declared that any Palestinian government would be beholden to those obligations. A unity government with Hamas independently seems set to run afoul of black-letter U.S. legislation conditioning American assistance to the PA on the absence of terror-linked figures in general, and on keeping Hamas members out of Ramallah’s political institutions in particular.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Thursday conveyed a statement by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY)on the issue:
“I’ll be working with the State Department on the logistics of suspending assistance,” Lowey told JTA on Thursday, after the Israeli government said it was formally suspending peace talks because of the agreement.
Lowey, the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, said the only thing that would stop her from taking steps to defund the Palestinian Authority would be if its president, Mahmoud Abbas, were to reverse course on the agreement he signed Wednesday with Hamas.
“At this point the law is clear, their actions are clear and the path forward is clear,” she said.
The declaration echoed a range of others from members on both sides of the aisle.
[Photo: dcexaminer / YouTube]