Israeli officials were angered this week after the Obama Administration found the loophole it needed to justify support for the new Palestinian Authority unity government, despite the involvement of the Hamas terrorist organization.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week warned that a Palestinian government including Hamas would mean an end to the peace process, and Washington initially appeared to back up that assessment.
But then US Secretary of State John Kerry did an apparent about-face while in Lebanon this week, telling reporters that his government would work with the new Palestinian regime. Kerry argued that doing so would not provide any legitimacy to Hamas, as none of the ministers in the new Palestinian government are directly affiliated with the terror group.
“Based on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate,” said Kerry.
Earlier, US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf insisted that in America’s eyes, “it is not a government backed by Hamas” because “there are no members of Hamas in the government.”
That position seemed to conveniently ignore that the Palestinian unity government was only made possible by the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, meaning Hamas has substantial influence.
Nor did Kerry or Harf bother to acknowledge the fact that the Palestinian government announced this week is a transitional regime, and that when new elections are held later this year, Hamas may very well win a commanding presence at the ballot box, as it did in 2006.
Whatever Washington’s motivation for joining the European Union and the UN in welcoming the new Palestinian government, Netanyahu was none too impressed.
“I’m deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work
with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas,” the Israeli leader told The Associated Press. “All those who genuinely seek peace must reject President Abbas’ embrace of Hamas, and most especially, I think the United States must make it absolutely clear to the Palestinian president that his pact with Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s liquidation, is simply unacceptable.”
Determined not to allow the international community to alter the status quo regarding Hamas, Israel began imposing threatened sanctions and punitive measures as a result of Abbas’ unity government announcement.
Palestinian media reported that Israel had revoked the VIP cards held by high-ranking Palestinian Authority officials, was withholding tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, and had barred movement between Gaza and the “West Bank.”
Israel also published tenders for 1,500 new apartments in Judea, Samaria and on the eastern side of Jerusalem, all areas claimed by the Palestinians. Housing Minister Uri Ariel confirmed that the housing units were a direct response to the Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government.
The new apartments are “an appropriate Zionist response to the Palestinian terror government,” Ariel insisted in a statement released to the press.
The Obama Administration didn’t see things that way. While it was willing to find an excuse to embrace the new Palestinian government, Washington flatly rejected and condemned Israel’s renewed “settlement activity.”
“We oppose settlement construction in the West Bank as well as announcements regarding such construction,” American Ambassador Dan Shapiro told Army Radio. “We would do so with or without this disputed case of a new Palestinian transitional government.”
The new Palestinian government responded by saying it hoped the Obama Administration would take its own punitive steps toward Israel.
“It is time for the American administration to take serious steps against what the government of Israel is doing,” PA presidential advisor Nimr Hammad told the AFP. “We strongly condemn this decision [to build 1,500 new Jewish apartments] which affirms that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a liar and is not interested in the two-state solution.”