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U.S., Israel balk at Palestinian reconciliation, insisting Hamas must disarm
JERUSALEM — Less than a week after rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas signed a historic reconciliation pact, both Israel and the U.S. said such a union could complicate Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In a statement released Thursday, President Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt said any Palestinian government must “unambiguously and explicitly commit” to nonviolence and recognize Israel.
He said Hamas needed to disarm if it wanted to play any role in a future Palestinian government
Greenblatt’s words follow a similar tone adopted by the Israeli government on Tuesday stating that it would “not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas, a terrorist organization calling for the destruction of Israel.”
But Palestinian officials, including Hamas in Gaza, said Israel and the U.S. envoy were meddling in internal Palestinian affairs and the reconciliation process would continue.
“It is the right of our people to choose its government according to their supreme strategic interests,” said senior Hamas official Bassem Naim, the AP news agency reported on Thursday.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the reconciliation agreement was of supreme national interest and must be promoted to end Israel’s occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state, local media reported.
For 10 years, the two parts of the Palestinian territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were ruled by mutually antagonistic groups that only just recently agreed to bury their differences.
Palestinians have long believed that it is in Israel’s interest to keep the two factions divided, weakening the Palestinians nationally and keeping the status quo in place.
“The reality is that there are no peace negotiations going on and even if there were, they would not yield anything positive,” said Diana Buttu, who formerly served as a legal adviser for the Palestinian negotiating team.
“The Israeli government is looking for any excuse not to negotiate,” she said. “They always say they want to negotiate but the facts on ground are exactly opposite. They refuse to remove settlements and are even celebrating 50-years of occupation.”
Prof. Hillel Frisch, a senior lecturer at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, said he was doubtful Palestinian reconciliation would achieve anything anyway.
“I don’t think Israel has to fret. It will end in a shootout at most,” he said.
Over the past 10 years, there have been several abortive attempts at reuniting Hamas and Fatah, but even after the two sides agreed to form a unity government three years ago, Hamas continued to run Gaza.
This time, though, some Palestinian officials say conditions are more conducive. Gaza is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that has paralyzed daily life for its two million inhabitants. Since Hamas took control, Israel has imposed restrictive controls on trade and movement, citing security concerns. Its crossing with Egypt has remained closed.
In May, the group, which has faced increasing isolation internationally, as well as growing hostility from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, unveiled a new manifesto moderating its position toward Israel by distinguishing between Zionists and Jews.
The group is still designated a terrorist organization by Israel and the U.S. Its founding charter declares its goal is to obliterate Israel.
The stranglehold on Gaza worsened this summer when the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to reduce the electricity supply to the strip, demanding Hamas pay its share of the cost. Gaza inhabitants were left with just a few hours of power a day.
Losing support locally, Hamas has said it is ready to hand over administrative control to the Palestinian Authority. The deadline for this process is set for February and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to visit Gaza Strip sometime in the near future.
Ghassan Khatib, a professor of political science at Birzeit University near the West Bank town of Ramallah, said the two factions still need to discuss certain issues but for now the reconciliation arrangement is purely functional to address the problems in Gaza.
“Mr. Greenblatt’s statement is completely unnecessary and has negative consequences because the Palestinians are not in the process of forming a government that is not compatible with its previous commitments,” he said.
For Moshe Maoz, an Israeli professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the U.S. and Israel are overreacting.
“They should look at the positive side of this new arrangement. In a sense, it carries some promise as it this could be a good chance for Israel to negotiate with the entire Palestinian people,” he said.
Apsny News English