Netanyahu: U.S. Will Not Recognize Palestinian Unity Government Immediately

Palestinian 'national reconciliation government' expected to be sworn in Monday, barring last-minute dispute over shuttering of Prisoners Affairs Ministry.

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Kerry and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 2, 2014.
Kerry and Netanyahu at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 2, 2014.Credit: Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has promised Israel that America will not immediately recognize the new Palestinian unity government expected to be sworn in Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the security cabinet on Sunday, according to two ministers at the meeting.

The ministers convened for several hours to discuss the new Palestinian government, slated to be sworn in Monday afternoon. The meeting dealt primarily with a survey by the heads of the intelligence services, who assessed the probable makeup of the new Palestinian government and its significance.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday asked the members of the PLO executive committee and the members of the new government to come to Ramallah at 1 PM on Monday for the swearing-in of the new “national reconciliation government,” as it is to be called.

All the ministers will be technocrats who are not identified with any political party. The new government’s platform is expected to declare acceptance of the terms of the Middle East Quartet – recognition of Israel, rejection of terror, and to honor previously signed agreements.

Nevertheless, reports from Gaza late Sunday night indicated that Hamas is not totally happy with the plans. The main point of contention is Abbas’ plan to dissolve the Prisoners Affairs Ministry and transfer responsibility for prisoner issues to an administration that would be subordinate to the PLO.

Senior Palestinian sources said that, despite this disagreement, Abbas pressed for the swearing-in on the assumption that any further delay would lead to additional disputes. In any case, they added, the issue was not substantial enough to thwart the reconciliation.

However, a senior Hamas official, Khalil al-Hayeh, told journalists in Gaza that the Prisoners Affairs Ministry was not a marginal issue and that if it is not resolved, the swearing-in might indeed be delayed. Hamas sources say Abbas capitulated to pressure from the United States and European governments, who were critical of having their aid money transferred to prisoners and their families.

The Israeli government, meanwhile, has already declared that it will not recognize the new government nor cooperate with any Palestinian government that is supported by Hamas and is dependent on it, even if no ministers are actually members of Hamas.

Two of the Israeli ministers at the security cabinet meeting said Netanyahu reported that he had received a phone call from Kerry in which the latter assured him that the United States would not rush to recognize the new government immediately after it is constituted. Netanyahu said Kerry explained that the United States would wait to see how the new Palestinian government operates, and only then decide whether to cooperate with it or not, the ministers said.

Netanyahu’s remarks contrast with the position displayed by the U.S. administration over the past few weeks. Two weeks ago, a senior White House official told Haaretz that the United States would recognize the new government if it accepted the Quartet’s conditions. In such a case, the United States had no plans to object to the composition of the Palestinian cabinet or to any of the individual ministers in it.

State Department Spokeswoman Jenifer Psaki told Haaretz:

"We have long stated publicly and privately that we would evaluate the makeup and determine whether we will work with the new government when an official announcement is made and Secretary Kerry along with several senior Administration officials have made clear to both sides that any new government must abide by the quartet principles and act accordingly."

Earlier Sunday, at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu called on the world not to cooperate with the new Palestinian government. “Hamas is a terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel, and the international community ought not to embrace it,” he said. “This will not strengthen peace, it will strengthen terror.”

Despite Netanyahu’s remarks, most of the ministers and officials who attended the meeting said that within a very short time, the international community’s resistance will erode and both the EU and United States will recognize the new PA government as legitimate.

The security cabinet made no decisions on possible sanctions against the PA under the new government, but security cabinet ministers are expected to convene again Monday and may discuss the matter.

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