U.S. To Work With Palestinian Unity Government Despite Hamas

The new Palestinian government includes Hamas, which the U.S. says is a terrorist organization. In spite of that, and Israel's objections, the U.S. says it will continue to fund the government.

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And I'm David Greene. Let's examine now what has changed in the Middle East. Palestinians went ahead yesterday with a plan to form a unity government. It includes Fatah, the party that recognizes Israel, and Hamas which does not. The United States says it will work with that unity government. In a moment, we'll ask Israel's ambassador to the U.S. what Israel will do. We begin with NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Even before Palestinians finalized the new government, Israel warned the U.S., Europe and other countries to not embrace a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. So is this U.S. response an embrace?

JEN PSAKI: Well, at this point it appears that President Abbas has formed an interim technocratic government.

HARRIS: State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.

PSAKI: Based on what we know now, we intend to work with this government. But we'll be watching closely to ensure that it upholds the principles that President Abbas reiterated today.

HARRIS: Mahmoud Abbas is the leader of Fatah and remains the president of the Palestinian Authority. The principles he reiterated after announcing new government members are recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and honoring past agreements.

Those are requirements laid down by the international community for recognition of any Palestinian government. But Israel is publicly furious with the U.S. for recognizing this new one which includes Hamas. Mark Regev is spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

MARK REGEV: Hamas is recognized by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. This is an organization that has killed hundreds of innocent civilians. This is an organization that says the state of Israel should be destroyed. Bringing them into the Palestinian government is a mistake. And we believe that should be said so clearly.

HARRIS: Peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry fell apart earlier this year. Israel says it's ready to talk again, but not with a government that includes Hamas.

REGEV: We call upon the Palestinian leadership to abrogate, to annul this pact with Hamas so we can get back to talks.

HANAN ASHRAWI: (Laughing) That's not only ironic, it's ridiculous.

HARRIS: Hanan Ashrawi is a senior Palestinian politician.

ASHRAWI: They're the ones who walked out of the negotiations. They're the ones who did everything possible to undermine the Kerry initiative. And then they're telling us, you know, we have to get back to negotiations. We never left.

HARRIS: Israel is threatening economic sanctions against the new Palestinian government and possibly to block elections if Hamas participates. The new government says it will hold elections, which are more than five years overdue, perhaps early next year. Ashrawi says she takes Israeli statements seriously. But she thinks Israel will stop short of bringing down the Palestinian government.

ASHRAWI: I know they want to weaken the Palestinians. I know it feels like they have the right to punish us. So I take them seriously. But I know that at a certain point, they’re going to avoid a total breakdown because that means a breakout of violence.

HARRIS: She says forming a government is only the first, and perhaps the easiest, step toward real Palestinian unity. The two parties still need to merge government functions, including police, and overcome a violent past and deep distrust. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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