OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel’s prime minister said Tuesday he was “deeply troubled” by the United States’ decision to maintain relations with the new Palestinian unity government, urging Washington to tell the Palestinian president that his alliance with Hamas is unacceptable.
The blunt language used by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reflected his dismay over the international community’s embrace of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ new unity government and marked the latest in a string of disagreements between Netanyahu and Washington.
Netanyahu has urged the world to shun the government because it is backed by Hamas, but the U.S., the U.N. and European Union said they would give Abbas a chance.
“I’m deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas,” Netanyahu told the Associated Press, saying the group had murdered “countless innocent civilians.”
“All those who genuinely seek peace must reject President Abbas’ embrace of Hamas, and most especially, I think the United States must make it absolutely clear to the Palestinian president that his pact with Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s liquidation, is simply unacceptable,” he said.
Asked whether Israel was lobbying its allies to change their position toward the unity government, an Israeli official said the government was “definitely in a conversation with the U.S. and other world powers, sharing our views on how to deal with the Palestinian government.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the diplomacy with the media.
Governments in Washington and Europe have said they would maintain ties to the new government – and continue sending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid – as long as it renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
The Palestinians say the new Cabinet is committed to these principles. It is made up of apolitical technocrats who have no ties to Hamas, which has agreed to support the government from the outside.
Israel’s intelligence minister said the notion that the new Cabinet was made up of technocrats rather than politicians – something that made it diplomatically easier for the West to deal with it – was bogus.
“You cannot present it internally as a Hamas government and present it on the outside as a technocrats’ government,” Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio.
“If these people are identified with Hamas, or are people with whom Hamas identifies and were appointed by Hamas then these are Hamas representatives.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah assured diplomats Tuesday that his new unity government would respect past agreements with Israel, after chairing the Cabinet’s first meeting.
“Hamdallah stressed that the government is committed to all international agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization ... international political initiatives and peaceful solutions,” his office said.
Hamdallah briefed EU representatives to the Palestinian territories on his new government, telling them also that his Cabinet would focus on service provision and resolving pressing water issues in the Gaza Strip.
He later gave U.N. peace envoy Robert Serry the same assurances, adding that the government’s “main mission is to prepare for free and democratic elections,” a separate statement said.
After chairing the Cabinet meeting, Hamdallah told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah that the “main subject the government discussed was how to reunite the institutions in the West Bank and Gaza.”
“Employees were asked to return to work,” he said, referring to people from Abbas’ Fatah party who worked in Gaza-based government ministries before Hamas took over the territory in 2007, splitting the territories into two separate camps.
The formation of the unity government does not resolve the Palestinian rift altogether. It remains unclear whether the sides will hold elections early next year, as they have agreed. Hamas also maintains a large, heavily armed fighting force in Gaza and is reluctant to cede control to Abbas. There are still questions about how to merge tens of thousands of dual civil services into one.
Salah Bardawil, a Hamas official in Gaza, said the sides would form committees to “sort out” remaining issues.