WASHINGTON - Did the US backtrack on an informal agreements reached between Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the possibility of a Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas?
Head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert Satloff, claims that "Kerry and Netanyahu had a detailed conversation focusing specifically on the possibility of a 'technocratic government'… whose composition is shaped and approved by Hamas" and had reached an agreement that the US would not deal with any Palestinian government backed by Hamas.
Satloff spoke to Ynet and said that "there was an understanding between Netanyahu and Kerry that the US would take a 'wait-and-see' position."
In a recent text, Satloff claimed that Kerry reaffirmed to Netnayahu a past commitment made by former US-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, according to Satloff the "administration evidently gave Israel a specific promise that it would not deal with any Palestinian government 'backed by Hamas.'"
However, Satloff further claimed things are not that simple and that "according to the transcript of the relevant Clinton-Netanyahu conversation, the original assurance was that Washington supports Israel's decision not to negotiate with a government that 'consists of Hamas."
Therefore though the US did not fail to make good on its promise, the timing of State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki's statement that the US was willing to work with the Palestinian government seemed to stand in severe tension with the manner Israel understood the assurance.
In a press conference Wednesday, Kerry attempted to reassure the Israelis in wake of the furor Psaki's comments inspired, saying the US would work with the new Palestinian unity government "as is appropriate" but would be monitoring the new government's commitment to continued cooperation with Israel.
Satloff makes no effort to hide his criticism of the US administration's conduct, saying US relations with the new Palestinian government should be defined according three central points: A commitment the Quartet's principles (recognition of Israel, renunciation of terror, acceptance of previous agreements), abiding by Congress's legal constrains regarding the funding of terrorists groups, and finally, its support of Israel.
"The third point," he said, "means not just recognizing Israel's right to do something - supporting Israel means preventing its isolation under such conditions."
He stressed that the result of the American inaction in face of the unity government is growing isolation for Israel.
"US officials must know that Israel's response to a Hamas-backed government would likely be directly proportional to its sense of isolation on the issue… the more support Israel finds in Washington … on its position toward an unacceptable Palestinian government, the less need it will feel to impose harsh economic and other costs on that government to prove its point."
According to Satloff, this misunderstanding was further exacerbated by the fact the current Palestinian government is backed by Hamas but does not actually contain any Hamas members.
"There is a real, if subtle, difference in the two positions - on one hand, that Israel automatically merits US support should it decide not to negotiate with a Palestinian government 'backed by Hamas,' and on the other hand, that Israel only merits such support should it decide not to negotiate with a government that 'consists of Hamas.'"
He further explained that "If the (US) administration argues that a technocratic government that accepts the Quartet principles actually passes those tests (recognition of Israel, renunciation of terror, acceptance of previous agreements), then the disagreement could become an issue."