Israel Upset, US Uncertain as Palestinians to Form Unity Government

The leaders of the primary Palestinian political factions, Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, reached an agreement in Doha, Qatar on Monday to form an interim unity government to be headed by Abbas. According to the WAFA Palestinian news agency, citing a statement read by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasem Al Thani, the Palestinian government is to consist of “qualified independents”—presumably instead of Hamas and Fatah legislators—and set the stage for upcoming national elections.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed disappointment in the decision of the Abbas-led Palestinian government to link with Hamas. Responsible for numerous suicide bombings and thousands of rocket attacks against Israel, Hamas continues to refuse to recognize Israel or renounce violence.

“If President Abbas moves to implement what was signed today in Doha, he will abandon the path of peace and join forces with the enemies of peace,” said Netanyahu in a statement released by his office. “Hamas is an enemy of peace. It’s an Iranian-backed terror organization committed to Israel’s destruction.”

Noting that Hamas is still seeking weapons for “even deadlier terrorism,” Netanyahu gave Abbas an ultimatum. “President Abbas, you can’t have it both ways. It’s either a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel. It’s one or the other. You can’t have them both.”

The response by the United States, a key supporter of the currently idle Israel-Palestinian peace process, was a wait-and-see approach. While US spokesperson Victoria Nuland did not specify what about the arrangement needed to be clarified, she repeatedly stressed to reporters the need to discuss with the Palestinian leadership what the deal will ultimately mean.

“We are not going to give a grade to this thing until we have a chance to talk to Palestinian Authority leaders about the implications,” a State Department release quoted Nuland as saying on Monday. “And our redlines remain the same in terms of what we expect of any Palestinian government, and the redlines that affect our ability to deal with it.”

While Nuland did not explain their caution, the independent technocrat aspect of the government appears to have given the United States some pause in determining their response to the announcement. The deal effectively joins Hamas—a designated terrorist organization—to the US-funded Palestinian Authority.

In comments that may force the Palestinians to get creative in integrating Hamas and their rejectionist views into the government, Nuland expressed very clearly that the US demands of the Palestinians acceptance of Israel are still in effect.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence. It must recognize the State of Israel. And it must accept the previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the roadmap. So those are our expectations,” said Nuland.

She later added that “our own position on Hamas hasn’t changed. It remains a designated foreign terrorist organization.”

Back in 2006, when Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections, the US and others responded by demanding that Hamas recognize Israel and renounce violence before the Palestinian government could be fully recognized and accepted. While some funding of Palestinian functions could continue, the US would be hard-pressed to maintain all of its current financial support to a Hamas-influenced Palestinian government.

While Hamas and Fatah have so far failed to fully implement the reconciliation deal signed last May, Abbas on Monday sounded determined to see the latest arrangement come to fruition. “We did not sign this agreement for the sake of signing it or for the media, rather to implement it, whether it had to do with the elections or the government,” WAFA quoted Abbas as saying.

The Palestinians and the Israelis met multiple times in January in efforts to restart peace talks suspended by the Palestinians in 2010, but those talks have since been declared a failure by Palestinian officials. The plans to link with Hamas, even if it is more symbolic than practical, would seem to make a renewal of the Mideast peace process even less likely.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, February 7, 2012)