The White House believes that the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas “isn’t necessarily a bad thing” and could ultimately strengthen the hand of President Mahmoud Abbas to reach a peace agreement on behalf of the entire Palestinian people.
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In a closed briefing on Friday to members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, President Obama’s Middle East adviser Philip Gordon admitted that Washington was surprised by the agreement and disappointed by its “unhelpful” timing. Gordon said that Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. representatives expressed their displeasure to Abbas and reiterated that the Administration would cut off aid to a Palestinian government that did not abide by the Quartet’s three conditions of opposition to terror and recognition of Israel and past agreements.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the Administration also has a “glass half full” view of the controversial deal between the two rival Palestinian factions. Gordon told the Jewish representatives that it would be very difficult to achieve a peace agreement with “half a Palestinian entity” and not with those who are under the rule of Hamas. You can’t make peace with only a part of the Palestinian people, Gordon said.
The Administration remains committed to the peace process, Gordon added, but is now adopting a wait and see attitude regarding developments inside the Palestinian camp. The U.S. does not oppose new Palestinian elections, and it will judge any new Palestinian coalition by its deeds, not by its words, he said.
Gordon said that the Administration believes that Abbas’ main motivation for advancing the talks with Hamas was not to achieve a reconciliation but to fortify his own leadership position at a time when Hamas is “on the ropes”, as Gordon phrased it. Abbas seized on an opportunity to strive for an agreement – both with Hamas and with Israel – from a position of strength, Gordon said.
Gordon also briefed the representatives on the ongoing talks with Iran, expressing optimism about their achievements and eventual outcome. His positive assessment, however, was not shared by most of his listeners.
The White House declined to comment on the reports from the closed meeting.