As the U.S. tries to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, officials in Washington were closely following reports on Wednesday of a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.
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The U.S. State Department said the timing of the Palestinian reconciliation deal was "troubling" and that it was "disappointed" by the announcement.
"It is hard to see how Israel will negotiate with a government that does not recognize its right to exist," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said. "The Palestinian reconciliation deal raises concerns and could complicate the efforts to extend peace talks."
"The ball is in the Palestinian court to answer questions about how government announcement affects peace talks," she said. She said the State Department had conveyed the message to both sides, and that the Americans are waiting for more clarifications from the Palestinians on the deal.
Meanwhile, following news of the deal, the Israeli Prime Minister's Office called off a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams that was scheduled for Wednesday evening.
"This evening, when talks are still underway to extend negotiations, [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] has chosen Hamas over peace," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace."
Abbas said on Wednesday a unity pact he reached with the militant group Hamas earlier in the day did not contradict peace talks he is pursuing with Israel. He said in a statement that an independent state living peacefully alongside Israel remained his goal.
A senior Palestinian official said reconciliation with Hamas means a peace deal would include the Gaza Strip, providing a "retort to all those in Israel who said peace is impossible as long as the Palestinian Authority does not control the Strip."
The Israeli security cabinet will meet Thursday to discuss the Palestinian unity deal between Hamas and Fatah. A senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu spoke on the phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry following the deal.
"We view this move as a return to the familiar pattern of the Palestinians who run away every time they need to make decisions," Netanyahu told Kerry.
A senior administration official told Haaretz that the United States will recognize the unity government expected to be formed under the agreement only if it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and adheres to previous agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"We have been clear about the principles that must guide a Palestinian government in order for it to play a constructive role in achieving peace and building an independent Palestinian state," the official said. "Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the Roadmap. President Abbas has been committed to these principles."
The official added that "if a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its adherence to the stipulations above, its policies and actions, and will determine any implications for our assistance based on U.S. law.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said the reconciliation deal harms peace efforts and "the opportunity that has just recently opened up."
"Hamas has refused for years to the conditions of the [Quartet on Middle East Peace] that include recognizing Israel, an end to violence and respecting agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians," said Livni, who is charged with overseeing negotiations with the Palestinians. "In light of the new situation, Israel must examine what this development means and reconsider its steps."
Hamas and Fatah signed a historic reconciliation deal earlier on Wednesday, nearly seven years after a schism between the rival Palestinian factions.
The reconciliation deal is based primarily on the agreements signed by the factions in Cairo and in Doha.
Addressing reporters in Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said he was "happy to declare the end of the period of inter-Palestinian division."
According to Haniyeh's statement to reporters, under the deal the two sides must uphold past agreements, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will form an interim unity government within five weeks, followed by elections in six months.