Home Foreign Israel Worried by U.S. Plan to Work With Palestinian Unity Government

Israel Worried by U.S. Plan to Work With Palestinian Unity Government


By JODI RUDOREN J JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Tuesday that he is “deeply troubled” by the Obama administration’s decision to work with the new Palestinian government, signaling new strains in the often rocky relationship between Israel and the United States, two close and critical allies.

Because the new government grew out of an agreement with Hamas, an Islamist movement that the West considers a terrorist group, Mr. Netanyahu has exhorted the world to reject it. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that “the United States must make it absolutely clear” to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority that the pact with Hamas “is simply unacceptable.”

Other Israeli leaders also used unusually harsh language to condemn Washington’s willingness to work with the government Mr. Abbas swore in on Monday. “American naïveté has broken all records,” said Gilad Erdan, a minister from Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party. The leader of the nationalist Jewish Home faction, Naftali Bennett, said the American decision “sends a message that terrorism pays.” Even Nachman Shai, a lawmaker with the left-leaning Labor Party, called the step “a slap in the face from the Americans.”

And Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, rebuked both the new Palestinian government and his host country’s embrace of it, posting on Facebook that “with suits in the front office and terrorists in the back office, it should not be business as usual.”

Though the new government was formed with Hamas’s consent, its 17 ministers are professionals without formal links to any political faction. Mr. Abbas promised on Monday that the new government would follow his policy of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and adhering to prior Palestinian-Israeli agreements, things that Hamas refuses to do. The prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, gave similar assurances in a meeting with European diplomats on Tuesday after the cabinet’s first meeting.

Though United States law bars financing any Palestinian government under “undue influence by Hamas,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said on Monday, “With what we know now, we will work with this government.” The statement appeared to widen fissures between the United States and Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu has been highly critical of President Obama’s approach to nuclear talks with Iran. He and others were irked by comments from the president and his aides placing much of the blame for the breakdown in American-brokered peace talks in April on Israel’s continued construction in West Bank settlements. Recent news reports alleging that Israel had spied on Americans added to the tensions.

“We’ve had disagreements over settlements, over Jerusalem — I see this as more fundamental, it’s a source of grave concern,” said Michael B. Oren, Israel’s previous ambassador in Washington.

“It delivers a blow to American credibility, and American credibility is cardinal here,” Mr. Oren added. “Because at the end of the day, if Israel is going to make concessions for peace, is going to take risks for peace, we have to rely on our alliance with the United States. There has to be deep trust.”

Several Israeli officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect internal discussions, said they were stunned by Washington’s decision. Mr. Netanyahu told his inner cabinet Monday afternoon that the Americans intended to “wait a while” before deciding how to deal with the new government, according to someone present, who said that assurance influenced the cabinet’s decision not to immediately impose sanctions.

“To some degree it also moderated us,” this person said. “If America is doing the right thing and waiting on the sidelines, we should also hold back.”

But a couple of hours later, Secretary of State John Kerry called Mr. Netanyahu and told him of the decision to work with the new Palestinian government. Washington was not waiting.

Ms. Psaki made it clear in a briefing with reporters on Monday that Washington would “continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new government and, if needed, we’ll modify our approach.”

For weeks, the Americans had told Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that they would withhold judgment until the new government was officially formed, and some were skeptical that it would even happen, since previous reconciliation deals between Hamas and Mr. Abbas’s faction, Fatah, never bore fruit. Once the ministers were sworn in, Washington had to decide whether money could continue flowing to the Palestinian Authority to sustain its aid programs and pay its employees.

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