Israel has announced it is pulling out of the U.S. brokered peace process following the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal announced yesterday. The New York Times reports:
The Israel government decided on Thursday to suspend American-sponsored peace talks with the Palestinians because of the reconciliation agreement the Palestinians announced on Wednesday between two rival factions, one of which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
The Israelis said no talks would be held at least until the new unity government announced by the Palestinians takes shape, and that it would not in any circumstances negotiate with a government that was backed by Hamas, the militant Islamic faction it considers a terrorist group.
The move came after a six-hour meeting of top Israeli ministers.
Haaretz adds that the European Union viewed the reconciliation deal favorably, saying it was “an important step toward a two-state solution.”
“Why is U.S. backing Israel’s refusal to negotiate with Hamas? — reporters blitz State Dep’t”:
It sure looks like the media’s blame-game has shifted– from blaming Palestinians for the breakdown of talks to blaming the Israelis.
The State Department briefing yesterday was dominated by the reports that Palestinian factions have reached a reconciliation deal. The deal was promptly denounced by the Israelis, who said it could not negotiate a peace deal with a government that includes Hamas; and the U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki echoed this line like a slave clock: Israel can’t talk with a party that does not recognize its existence.
Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel… This [deal] could seriously complicate our efforts – not just our efforts, but the efforts between the parties, more importantly, to extend the negotiations, as evidenced by the announcement by the Israelis to cancel the negotiating meeting this evening.
But few of the reporters at the briefing were buying State’s line. They repeatedly questioned why Palestinian unification should be a bar to negotiations. They cited the fact that the Israeli government includes extremists, that negotiations occur in other conflicts in which parties still endorse violence, and that any deal has to include all Palestinians, anyway, so this should be a good thing.
Here are excerpts of those questions. First the statement that not all Israeli government parties recognize Palestinians:
Certainly the Israeli Government has some members in it that do not recognize the Palestinians and so on, but the government itself deals with the Palestinians. Now, if you have exactly the same situation but the reverse on the Palestinian side – the Palestinian Government recognizes Israel, works with it, negotiates with it, but it has members that come from Hamas – why would this jeopardize the process?
MS. PSAKI: There have been longstanding principles, and again, I think I answered that question by conveying, it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist. Again, they’ve made these announcements before.
This questioner then cited US support for Israeli footdragging:
Doesn’t that go, then, to the question of whether or not the Palestinians feel that they can actually look to the U.S. and actually trust the U.S. enough to say we’re really, really frustrated by the way things are going with the Israelis; we’re wondering whether they’re negotiating in good faith?
A reporter cited the higher access that Israelis get to Kerry:
You said that the Secretary had spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Has the Secretary spoken to President Abbas about this?
MS. PSAKI: He has not. Our team on the ground has been in touch with the Palestinians, though.
Another reporter pressed the point that enemies negotiate deals, and thus the absurdity of the Israeli conditions:
Why is it hard to expect Israel to negotiate with a group that does not accept its right to exist? It is not as if there have not been, in past history, negotiations between two sides where one does not agree with the other one’s right to exist or doesn’t recognize them as a state or a government; and yet it is through the process of negotiation that you ultimately, if it succeeds, get to a point where both sides recognize the other’s right to exist.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad … It’s up to the Israelis to make that determination. As you have seen, I’m sure, they canceled the negotiating meeting for tonight.
Arshad pushes that historical point:
I don’t understand, just as a matter simply of, like, logic and theory why it is inconceivable to the U.S. Government that two parties who don’t believe in the other’s – or one party that doesn’t believe in the other one’s right to exist could still not be expected to negotiate in the hopes that they might eventually get to a point where they would recognize the other’s right to exist.
MS. PSAKI: Well, negotiating, as you’ve touched on, is certainly about talking about areas where you disagree.
Another reporter says that if anything this should open the way to a deal, because all Palestinian parties are now represented:
Jen, is there any sense in the State Department or the U.S. Government that this could provide an opening? I mean, it does mean that, for the first time, the Israelis would be negotiating with the entire Palestinian polity and not just the West Bank, and that this might provide at least a stepping stone towards a more workable relationship with Hamas and an agreement that’s actually representative of all Palestinians. Is there any sense that there may be a silver lining in this, that there may be something to work with?
Psaki says it’s about what the Israelis want:
MS. PSAKI: It’s not just about what the U.S. Government view is, which I’ve outlined. It’s about whether the Israelis will negotiate with the Palestinians, and they canceled the meeting for tonight.
The reporter presses the matter of US autonomy:
It just seems like from a policy point of view this actually may provide a real opening. I mean, before you’ve had the Secretary pouring a lot of energy and time into a negotiation that was arguably with basically half the Palestinians, not all of them, and now you have a chance to do something that’s actually broader
Another reporter brings in the Iran issue, and says this could be an opening:
Hamas is probably as isolated as it has been in some time probably in the past decade. It is not on good terms, as I understand it, with Iran, which had long been one of its supporters and underwriters. And it’s also found itself estranged from some parts of Egypt. There could be an opportunity to try to persuade them to give up their ways and to convert. Is there not a sense in this building that this could be an opportunity, perhaps the first such one since 2005?
Implicit in the Iran reference is the fact that the U.S. is now negotiating with Iran, so why shouldn’t Israel negotiate with its enemy?
A reporter brings up the fact that the PLO is negotiating, and the PLO recognizes Israel:
But the negotiating partner to Israel has all along been the PLO, and the PLO has amended the charter back in the presence of President Clinton, I believe, in Gaza and so on, to recognize Israel. It has done this before many times, has done this since. Isn’t that the entity that still negotiates, so that sort of renders the issue maybe a non-issue?
Here’s more of the central contradiction. Why do we get to choose who represents the Palestinian people as a whole? Or the Israelis:
I don’t really understand – I mean, to go back to Nicole and Roz’s question – I mean, they may be different parties, but they’re all one people. They’re the Palestinian people. And any peace deal has to, at some point, take into – take that into consideration. You can’t just have a peace deal between one party, Israel, who – which represents all Israelis, whether Orthodox Jews or Arab Israelis, and a section of the Palestinian people who happen to live in the West Bank. I mean, going back to what Nicole said, does this actually not in some way provide a better vector going forward in that if they meet the conditions that you’ve set out, you would have all of the Palestinian people negotiating with all of the Israeli people – or their representatives, rather?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that is an awfully optimistic view and I’m not going to speculate on whether the Palestinians will continue to pursue this.
QUESTION: But I don’t understand why the United States gets to choose which section of the Palestinian people they – Israel should negotiate with.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not us choosing. I think it’s pretty clear that the Israelis, since they canceled the meeting this evening and they have made clear comments about this, that they – and they’re an important partner here.
Ah, so the Israelis are setting the terms. Some cynicism about the U.S.’s independence:
[C]learly, you’re backing the Israeli view on this issue.
And here’s more support for the fairness of the Palestinian stance. They’re prepared to talk:
But Hamas is not saying that it is pre-conditional for the Palestinians, for us to have some sort of reconciliation to drop negotiations, to drop the recognition of Israel. They don’t dictate terms on the PLO to conduct its negotiation. That’s what the Palestinians are saying.
Netanyahu’s twitter campaign began yesterday morning.
Please RT this important message: Abu Mazen prefers a pact with Hamas over peace with Israel. pic.twitter.com/NYtCanidhH
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 23, 2014
More from the PM:
Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace. 5/5
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 23, 2014
A bristling tone.
This evening, as talks are still ongoing about extending the negotiations, Abu Mazen has chosen Hamas and not peace. 4/5 — Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 23, 2014
Here is Ali Abunimah’s view of the reconciliation deal: “Stillborn.” These two views of Israel can’t be reconciled.
This “reconciliation” is not going to be any more successful than previous deals signed in Cairo in 2011, in Doha in 2012 and again in Cairo in 2012. The reasons are straightforward: the differences between Fatah and Hamas are fundamental and have not changed. Hamas, although it is currently observing a November 2012 ceasefire it negotiated with Israel, remains committed to military resistance. Abbas remains committed to active collaboration – politely termed “security coordination” – aimed at dismantling all Palestinian capacity for military resistance to Israel.
I’ve said that liberal Zionists are going to blame Netanyahu; Steve Clemons appears to do so here:
— Steve Clemons (@SCClemons) April 23, 2014