The United States intends to work with the new Palestinian unity government and will continue to disburse aid to the Palestinian Authority, the State Department said on Monday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the U.S. “will be judging this government by its actions. Based on what we know now, we intend to work with this government, but we’ll be watching closely to ensure that it upholds the principles that President Abbas reiterated today.”
Her comments came on the same day the new government was sworn in. The members have the backing of Fatah, which covers the West Bank, and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and has been designated by the United States as a terrorist group.
The State Department said the new government must adhere to such principles as recognizing Israel, rejecting terror and honoring previously made Israel-Palestinian agreements.
Under United States law, funds cannot be given to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence. The United States gives between $400 and $500 million a year to the Palestinian Authority.
Prior to the new government’s formation, Secretary of State John Kerry had stated that the United States would take a wait-and-see approach.
Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are criticizing the State Department’s willingness to work with and fund what it calls “an interim technocratic government that does not include ministers affiliated with Hamas.”
“The administration, in consultation with Congress, should initiate an immediate review of this new government,” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, said in a statement. “Until such time that it is determined that assistance to this so-called technocratic government is consistent with our own interests, principles, and laws, it is incumbent on the Administration to suspend U.S. assistance.”
Republican Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated, “It’s hard to see a government that embraces Hamas getting us closer to peace, much less helping its people. While the ‘unity government’ hides behind the façade of nonpartisan bureaucrats, it was only born out of support from Hamas.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) issued a statement that he was “deeply concerned” about the new government, noting “Hamas continues to advocate violent action against Israel, and its political leadership refuses to recognize Israel.”
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, stopped short of calling for a funding review, but said the unity government endangered U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority.
AIPAC issued a statement urging Congress “to conduct a thorough review of continued U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the law is completely followed and implemented.”
AIPAC is “greatly concerned and disappointed by the announcement of the formation of a Palestinian Authority unity government backed by Hamas,” the statement said. “The embrace of the notorious Islamist terrorist organization is a disturbing setback to peace.”
The more liberal J Street issued a statement urging both the U.S. and Israeli governments to proceed with caution and suggested benefits could accrue should the new Palestinian government prove to be committed to the peace process.
Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein strongly criticized the United States’ position, noting that “there is no justification for according recognition to such a government and continuing to work with it, simply because it is supposed to be merely a caretaker prior to holding Palestinian elections.”
Klein, in a statement, said, “We call upon the Obama Administration to immediately terminate relations, funding and negotiations with the new Hamas/Fatah/PA regime.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations supported congressional calls for reviewing aid to the Palestinians.
“We urge the United States and other governments to be vigilant in their judgment of and dealings with the newly declared government,” the umbrella organization of the Jewish community said in a statement. “We call on President Abbas to return to the negotiations with Israel and not engage in this charade.”
While the United States is willing to continue its relationship with the P.A., Israel left no doubt it would do no such thing. Israel’s Security Cabinet said it will not negotiate with the new government and will oppose Hamas’ participation in the Palestinian elections if and when they take place. The Security Cabinet also said it will hold the new government responsible for any rockets fired at Israel from Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel would not allow the new unity government to hold any elections in eastern Jerusalem.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer harshly criticized the State Department for not condemning the newly formed government. In a five minute interview on National Public Radio June 3, Dermer said that he had hoped Kerry would have strongly opposed the new government. Dermer said that a few hours before the new government was formed, Kerry had said he was “deeply concerned,” but immediately following the announcement, Dermer was disappointed that he didn’t hear any of that concern expressed.
He pointed out that “Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction,” and said “Hamas was an organization that condemned the United States for killing Osama bin Laden, a man that they call the Holy Warrior.”
In a prepared statement, Dermer called the Palestinian unity government “a government of technocrats backed by terrorists, and should be treated as such. With suits in the front office and terrorists in the back office, it should not be business as usual.”
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, an international association of Conservative rabbis, said her organization supports Netanyahu’s “refusal to recognize the new Palestinian unity government. This cautious approach is the most logical course of action given the violent track record of Hamas, an organization responsible for murdering and terrorizing countless Israelis.
“We hope that this deal foreshadows Hamas renouncing its anti-Semitic hatred of Israel and its reliance on terrorism,” she continued, “but in the meantime we view its unrepentant attitude toward past actions as a roadblock to true peace.”
More than merely getting in the way of peace talks, Kobi Michael, former deputy director general at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, called the new government “the Lebanonization of the Palestinian arena.” In a conference call arranged by the Israel Project, Michael explained that Fatah and Hamas will each have its own military wing.
With all the ministers approved by Hamas, Michael said that the world should look at what it does, not what it says.
“The real nature of this government will be closer to Hamas than to Fatah, otherwise Hamas would not have supported this government,” he said.
JTA contributed to this story