An Israeli official said on Monday that the United States had in the past backed Israel’s position that it will not negotiate with any Palestinian Authority government that is supported by Hamas, even if it is made up of political independents and apolitical technocratic figures who meet international conditions for acceptance.
In fact, that official told The New York Times, Israel had received “a specific commitment from the American administration” backing that position.
The Israeli official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the subject’s diplomatic delicacy, said that the commitment had been given to Israel during President Barack Obama’s first term in office and that it had been restated since his re-election. The official would not specify whether the commitment had been given in writing or by the president himself.
He insisted, however, that the Obama administration had backed Israel’s position against negotiating or dealing with such a unity government unless Hamas accepted the principles laid down by world powers after it won elections in 2006: to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to renounce all violence and to accept all previous signed agreements.
A senior State Department official would not comment, telling The New York Times that the administration was “not going to reveal the details of private conversations.”
The report comes several days after Israel officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA), a response to a unity pact that was signed between PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and the Hamas terrorist group.
The New York Times noted that since the two factions announced the agreement to heal their schism, including plans to form a unity government of technocrats within five weeks and to hold elections six months later, the American administration’s position toward a unity government has appeared less clear-cut.
In an initial reaction last week, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the move “disappointing” and the timing “troubling,” coming days before the April 29 expiration date for the American-brokered peace talks.
Psaki said that “any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” without making any mention of Hamas.
She added, “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.”
Later, noted the newspaper, when asked whether the demand was for Hamas to change its long-held positions, Psaki said that if Abbas “were to continue to pursue reconciliation, Hamas would need to abide by these principles in order to be a part of the government.”
“So if it’s a unified government, yes, they would need to abide by these principles,” she said, in a statement that did not appear to address Israel’s concerns about a unity government in which Hamas did not play a direct part.
The Washington Post reported late Saturday that Hamas media advisor Taher al-Nunu, who works closely with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, stated that the terror organization "did not rule out" the possibility of recognizing Israel - but only in the context of a successful unity pact with Fatah to form a government.
Hamas has vowed never to recognize Israel's existence on multiple occasions. Nunu later retracted his comments and claimed, in a conversation with the Ma’an news agency, that he had been misquoted by The Washington Post.
Despite the Hamas-Fatah pact which led to the suspension of peace talks, the United States has denied that the peace talks have failed.
In fact, after the pact was signed Kerry called for "compromises" from both sides and declared, "We will never give up our hope or our commitment for the possibilities of peace."