Israel Slams 'Weak' U.S. Response to Fatah-Hamas Unity Deal

Senior official in Jerusalem: 'Americans need to tell Abbas this is a red line - he can't associate with Hamas.'

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaches out to shake hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel is disappointed with the 'weak' American reaction to the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, and demands a clearer, more resolute response, a senior Israeli official involved in the dialogue with Washington told Haaretz on Thursday.

Government ministers discussed the international response to the unity agreement at the five-hour security cabinet meeting that dealt with the Palestinian pact that was reached on Wednesday. According to the senior official, ministers were in full agreement that the American response was "insufficient, weak, merely for show and didn't include enough exclamation marks."

After the reconciliation deal was announced, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki called the deal "troubling" and said the United States was "disappointed" by it. She added that Washington would ask the Palestinians to provide clarifications.

The senior official said Israel made it clear to the Americans that they were disappointed with their response and asked that they take a sharper, clearer tack, as they did when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's threatened to disband the PA. At the time, the State Department issued a public warning to Abbas that such a move would have serious implications for U.S. relations with the Palestinians.

"We expect that the American statement be much more decisive and determined," a senior Israeli official said. "The Americans need to make it clear to Abbas that this is a red line – he just can't associate with Hamas. We don't accept that the Americans are talking about the policy of the unity government once it is formed, and are ignoring the fact that this is an alliance with Hamas. The Americans need to tell Abbas that he allied himself with a terrorist group and that they cannot accept this."

Against a background of these Israeli protests, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Abbas on Thursday of his "disappointment" with the timing of the deal he reached with the Hamas. Psaki said Kerry made it clear to Abbas that any unity government that emerges from the deal would have to accept the Mideast Quartet's conditions: Recognition of Israel, repudiation of violence and the honoring of past agreements with Israel.  

Nevertheless, the Americans haven't toughened their public stance toward the Palestinian reconciliation, and have even softened it compared to their initial statement. In the daily State Department press briefing, Psaki said the United States wasn't categorically opposed to the existence of a Palestinian unity government, but was focused on the policy that such a government must implement. Kerry, for his part, didn't express his position on the agreement between Fatah and Hamas, only on its timing.

Psaki made it clear that both Israel and the Palestinians were responsible for the dead end in the peace talks. "There have been unhelpful steps taken by both parties," she said. "We view it as essential that both sides exercise maximum restraint and avoid escalatory steps." Psaki also spoke on the disagreement with the Israelis, saying, "We have our position and the Israelis have theirs. Nothing has happened on the ground other than the statement. We will see what happens."

Security services question likelihood of elections

Most of the inner cabinet's discussion was devoted to surveys by Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories General Yoav Mordechai, National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen and Foreign Ministry director general Nissim Ben Shitreet.

Two ministers who attended the meeting said both the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence chiefs doubted the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas would be carried out. The two said there is a "certain likelihood" a unity government consisting of technocrats would be formed, which would serve as a caretaker government until future elections are held.

But both Cohen and Kochavi reportedly told the ministers the likelihood for holding elections for the Palestinian parliament and presidency was "extremely low."

The last presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

The ministers argued over Israel's policy following the reconciliation agreement, especially regarding the continuation of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Ministers Naftali Bennett and Gilad Erdan demanded ending the peace talks once and for all.

Ministers Tzipi Livni, Israel's co-negotiator at the talks, and Minister Jacob Perry insisted on only a suspension pending clarifications about the prospective Palestinian government. They said it was important to enable a return to the talks in the future.

After a discussion of more than an hour on this clause alone, a compromise was reached. The cabinet decision reads as follows: "Israel will not conduct negotiations with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction."

However, it was decided to maintain the security coordination between the IDF, Shin Bet and the Palestinian Authority.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who suggested taking measured steps, reportedly attempted to calm the ministers' spirits, telling them there was no need to "rant and rave," and Foreign Ministry officials who attended the meeting expressed a view before the ministers that Israel would gain nothing- and could cause itself damage- by declaring the negotiations annulled.