State Dep’t Struggles to Explain Its View of the Hamas-Backed Palestinian Unity Gov’t

July 3, 2014 - 4:56 AM

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Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the unity government set up by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas a month ago, and the reconciliation agreement with Hamas which made its establishment possible, were “different” – but also “linked.”

Psaki was responding to queries about whether the administration would reconsider its approach towards the interim P.A. government, given a barrage of rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Israel’s accusation that Hamas abducted and murdered three teenagers.

She said the State Department continues to evaluate the composition, policies and actions of the unity government, “and nothing has changed in that regard.”

Psaki underscored the administration’s assessment that Hamas is not part of the unity government of “technocrats” set up by Abbas on June 2. That government was born out of a reconciliation agreement to end a seven-year feud between Hamas and Abbas’ faction, Fatah.

Psaki said the unity government and the reconciliation deal were two different things – but then she acknowledged they also are linked.

“They’re not a part of the technocratic government,” she said of Hamas. “Obviously, the technocratic government is different from um, uh – the reconciliation process. Obviously, everything’s linked. It’s all – but it’s different. They’re not a part of the technocratic government.”

The question of a Hamas role in the P.A. government is significant because restrictions in U.S. appropriations law prohibit federal funding for a Palestinian entity in which Hamas, which is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, has a role.

But the administration stated early last month that since ministers in the government were technocrats not affiliated with Hamas, it would continue to fund the P.A.

Israel has accused Hamas of responsibility for the killing of three teenagers whose bodies were found on Monday near Hebron in a P.A.-administered part of the West Bank, more than two weeks after they were abducted on their way home from school. Hamas leaders praised the kidnapping, but the group has denied involvement.

Dozens of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip have landed in southern Israel since Sunday, according to the Israeli army. Most have landed in open ground, although some buildings and vehicles were damaged too. Hamas has controlled Gaza since it seized the territory in a violent dispute with Fatah in 2007.

Asked whether the administration has faith that the unity government has control of the situation, Psaki conceded that the situation was “difficult.”

But she said that Abbas, who as P.A. head was “an important part of the technocratic process here, has strongly condemned these actions. And we expect and hope that that will continue.”

Last week the House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year 2015 foreign operations bill that includes a provision on restrictions on funding for the P.A., but with the language tweaked from previous years.

In the past, legislation prohibited funds going to “any entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power sharing government of which Hamas is a member, or that results from an agreement with Hamas and over which Hamas exercises undue influence.”

This time the provision removes the final seven words, and so reads, “any entity effectively controlled by Hamas, any power-sharing government of which Hamas is a member or that results from an agreement with Hamas.”

The change is designed to apply to the current situation: While the administration may argue that Hamas does not exercise “undue influence” over the unity government, there is no reasonable dispute that the unity government was formed as a result of “an agreement with Hamas.”

“The bill includes a new condition – no funds can go to a Palestinian government that results from an agreement with Hamas,” committee chairman Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said during the markup.

“Since the current government was put in place because of such agreement, the committee defers assistance for the Palestinian Authority. Aid is off the table until it is clear that this government is committed to peace and security.”