State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki has flatly rejected reports published initially by Agence France Press (AFP) and reprinted in the Jerusalem Post, Al-Arabiya and other outlets according to which Washington had extended an invitation to the newly picked prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Rami Hamdallah. In the earlier report, an unnamed Palestinian official had been quoted saying that such an invitation had been extended as a “recognition of the consensus government by the U.S. administration.” If true, this would have marked a significant change in U.S. policy towards recognition of the new unity government in which the Fatah movement, led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, joined forces with the internationally recognized terror group Hamas.
At the daily briefing yesterday, however, Psaki dismissed the claim out of hand:
QUESTION: The Palestinians claim that the United States issued an invitation to Rami Hamdallah, who is the prime minister of the Palestinians, past and present. He’s been asked to form a government – a national unity government. Is that true? Could you confirm that he’s been issued an invitation? And if that is true, then does that mean that he will work with a national unity government that includes Hamas?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there has been no invitation issued to Prime Minister Hamdallah. As we’ve said all along, we’ll not make decisions until we see the final formation of the interim government and have the opportunity to assess and make a determination about whether this is a government we can work with. And we will base that assessment on the government’s composition, policies, and actions. So we’ll have to take a look when any official announcement is made.
QUESTION: So the claim made by this Palestinian official is just plain false?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
Psaki’s comments come as part of a wave of statements from Administration officials criticizing the Palestinian unity government’s formation and siding with Israel’s decision to suspend talks in its wake. On Thursday night, Secretary of State John Kerry described Israel’s decision as “appropriate.”
The Palestinian Authority’s decision to form a unity government with Hamas has triggered bipartisan condemnation from American political leaders, as well as serious legal questions about the continuation of U.S. aid to the PA. Two top House appropriators, Rep. Granger (R-Tex.) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), issued a joint statement warning the PA about the consequences of reunification with Hamas:
We have been strong supporters of aid to the Palestinian Authority in the hopes of ensuring prosperity, stability, and peace for the Palestinian people and all people in the region…However, our ability to support current and future aid would be severely threatened if you abandon direct negotiations with Israel and continue with your current efforts.
Two leading Republican senators, Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), sent a letter to Secretary Kerry calling upon the Administration to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the decision to unify with Hamas. This would be required by U.S. law:
As you know, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 sets detailed requirements for the continuation of U.S. assistance should Hamas be brought into the Palestinian Authority government. The law is very clear. If Hamas comes to have a role in governance, there must be public acknowledgment of the Jewish State of Israel’s right to exist as well as acceptance of all previous agreements the Palestinians have made with Israel, the United States, and the international community. The law also requires that demonstrable progress be made towards dismantling of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and purging of individuals with ties to terrorism. Moreover, Hamas would need to halt its anti-American and anti-Israeli incitement. The bar is high because the stakes are high and we must make sure to stand firmly by what we have said. Failing to do so will diminish the credibility of the United States.
And when asked whether the White House would work together with Congressional leaders to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if the new government failed to renounce violence, respect past agreements and recognize Israel, Tony Blinken, deputy national security adviser, said, “If a government didn’t do that, yes.”