US President Barack Obama, right, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Monday, March 17, 2014 (photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP)
WASHINGTON — In a major blow to the Israeli government’s efforts to isolate the Hamas-backed Palestinian unity government, the US said Monday it would work with the new West Bank-Gaza leadership, which was sworn in on Monday afternoon, and would maintain its aid to the Palestinian Authority. It said it would be “watching closely” to ensure the new government respects the principles of non-violence.
The US position is in conflict with the official stance in Jerusalem, which outright rejects the new Palestinian leadership because Hamas remains committed to destroying Israel and is a designated terrorist organization in Israel, the US and the EU.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that Washington believes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has “formed an interim technocratic government…that does not include members affiliated with Hamas.”
“With what we know now, we will work with this government,” Psaki said. She did, however, warn that the US “will continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new government and if needed we’ll modify our approach.” She later added that the administration would be “watching carefully to make sure” that the unity government upholds the principles that serve as preconditions for continuing US aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Reached for comment, Israel’s foreign ministry declined to respond to the statements from Washington. But the US move was a major surprise; sources in Washington had been quoted in Israel in recent days saying the US would not immediately recognize the new PA government.
As recently as Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry called Abbas and “expressed concern about Hamas’s role in any such government and the importance that the new government commit to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements with it,” Psaki had said in remarks Sunday.
Earlier Monday, Kerry discussed the recent developments in a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. State Department officials would not confirm the tone of the conversation, or comment on whether the US administration’s announcement had come as a surprise to the Israeli government.