“If there is ever to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement […] the Palestinians must be united”, it is up to Mahmoud Abbas to ensure that the unit does not lead to Hamas to take over[1]. The renewed dialogue between Hamas and Fatah led to the formation of a government composed of seventeen non-political ministers, including five from Gaza led by Rami Hamdallah, the Prime Minister of the State of Palestine.

The situation in the Middle East remains difficult, and the agreement of Palestinian national unity was the response to the faltering Fatah Israelis in the peace process initiated by the United States but never really came to a point. Hamas and Fatah have been for several years on opposite sides: this resulted in a complete separation between the two entities Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and, according to many observers, this condition did foster Israel.

During this week, the Ministry of Housing and Construction of Israel has authorized the construction of 1,800 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Israeli government said that was decided in response to the formation of a Palestinian unity “terrorist government” led by Hamas Islamists, who oppose Israel’s existence[2].

However, we are facing a new stage in the gap between the U.S. and Israel, although none of them is interested in emphasizing its scope. Though Israel has threatened punitive sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, including reducing contacts and holding back tax revenues, its room for manouvre is limited by the fact that Israel appears to have no real desire to push for moves that would see the Palestinian Authority collapse and force Israel to take over the day-to-day running of the occupied territories. In addition to that Israel is the main beneficiary of the joint Israeli-Palestinian Authority security coordination arrangements on the West Bank, thanks to which Palestinian security forces have arrested and sent to jail members of Hamas and other militant groups[3].

The challenge of the West and the United States is to manage to distinguish the support to the new government and the approval to Hamas, in order to have any hope of succeeding. So, United States and Europe should continue insisting that Abbas meets the promises and does not allow Hamas to take over. One of the fundamental issues should be: is it possible for the United States and Europe to continue to help the Palestinians (mainly through economic and humanitarian aid) if these same countries consider Hamas a terrorist group? The European Union and Italy recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization and in its Constitution Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel (Article 15) and the murder of Jews (Article 7): so, is it possible to legitimize Hamas as a terrorist group and further isolate Israel as a friendly country? These are some of the questions that diplomats in Europe and worldwide should answer. With the Hamas-Fatah agreement, Abbas has ended negotiations with Israel and has clearly violated the Oslo Agreements, which prohibit the formation of coalitions with terrorist groups. It is hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in the former’s right to exist[4].

Analysts said the sharpness of the Israeli reaction should be seen in the context of anxiety that this and other U.S. moves could leave Israel isolated on vital matters. Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, posted his reaction to Facebook few hours after Monday’s State Department announcement of the U.S. position. “Israel is deeply disappointed with the State Department’s comments today on the Palestinian unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization responsible for the murder of many hundreds of Israelis, which has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, and which remains committed to Israel’s destruction”, Dermer said. He suggested that the technocrats provided cover to terrorists. “This Palestinian unity government is 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”, Dermer said.

However, there was a subtle difference in the statements between Republican and Democratic lawmakers, with Democrats stopping short of calls for an immediate cutoff. Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the Obama administration should continue to advance peace talks efforts. But she said funding for the Palestinian Authority was in “jeopardy” as long as Hamas rejected the preconditions for peace talks set down in 2006 by the Quartet, the international grouping that mediates the peace talks: recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism and abiding by past agreements.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, said unequivocally that funding should stop. Lara Friedman, the director of government relations for Americans for Peace Now, said the new government likely falls within the law. “With no Hamas members inside the new government, no evidence of Hamas having ‘undue influence’ over it, and clear statements from Abbas that it will respect the Quartet conditions, the fact is that there is simply nothing in law requiring aid to the P.A. to cease”, she said. Friedman noted that as recently as last month, after the talks between Abbas and Hamas were launched, AIPAC opposed new legislation that would cut funding to the Palestinian Authority, in part deferring to Israeli concerns that such actions would undercut Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.

Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote that according to his conversations with Israeli and U.S. government officials, the Americans had agreed to support Israel’s refusal to deal with the new unity government even if the United States maintained ties with it. But with a clear difference in policy emerging, such support might not be enough to assure Israel, Satloff added. “It is difficult to see what ‘support’ means if the practical result is U.S. acquiescence to Israel’s political isolation, which is the expected result of the considerable daylight that would open between the two countries on this critical issue if they chose different paths”, he wrote[5].

While the issue has triggered a heated debate in the United States, especially in the Congress, the European Union’s reaction was more lukewarm as it prefers “to look out the window” and wait for the U.S. moves. European interests in Israel and to Israel, as well as Jewish communities in Europe are very important. Hence, there ought be a clearer stance against terrorist groups denying the legitimacy of the state and preventing Israeli peace talks.

In conclusion, considering the points and issues analysed so far, it would be advisable to avoid any support to terrorist organizations while trying to keep the relations with Fatah. Indeed, supporting  Israel in his effort to fight terrorist organizations should be advocated for the sake of peace and if willing to promote, in the long run, the final resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

 

VITTORIO D’ALEO

Ph.D. candidate in Economic Sciences at University of Messina

 

 


[2] Anon., 1,800 more settler homes planned by Israel in Jerusalem, Gaza, “Israel Herald”, June 5, 2014.

[3] Beaumont P., Israel condemns US for backing Palestinian unity government, “The Guardian”, June 3, 2014.

[4] Klein M., Israel/PA negotiations stalled –– What should be done now?, “Jewish Journal”, May 7, 2014.

[5] Kampeas R., U.S. warming to Palestinian unity draws Israeli ire, “Jewish Telegraphic Agency”, June 3, 2014.