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On Not “Expecting” Israel to Negotiate With Hamas

There has been some debate recently about whether the Obama administration will try to pressure Israel to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. At the JTA, Ron Kampeas argues that the administration has no intention of doing this, and he shares this quote from an off-the-record call that White House Middle East director Steve Simon held with prominent members of the Jewish community:

“We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government,” said Simon. “If they [the Palestinian Authority] go to a power-sharing arrangement where Hamas’ position has not shifted, then we’re obligated to cut off our support.”

“It couldn’t be clearer,” writes Kampeas. “Not only would Israel not be expected to negotiate with a government that included Hamas, but the United States would cut off such a government.”

Actually, the statement is far from clear. Simon certainly says the U.S. is legally obligated to cut off support from a unity government that includes Hamas, but that has little to do with whether Israel would be pressed to negotiate with such a government.

Further, Simon said administration officials “don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government.” President Obama used a similar phrase during his AIPAC speech: “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction.” But neither mentioned whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with the Fatah portion of a unity government.

What if there was a unity government in which Fatah handled the negotiations file, and Hamas handled the domestic services portion? Could Israel be expected to negotiate with the Fatah segment, while Hamas stayed out of it?

From what I’ve heard from the White House so far, it’s not clear. And the counterintuitive behavior from the administration only adds to the confusion. Last week, Eli Lake at the Washington Times reported  the White House is increasing its pressure on Israel to accept Obama’s 1967 border parameters. As Jonathan wrote earlier today, the Wall Street Journal followed up on that today with a report that Dennis Ross and David Hale are headed to the Middle East to push the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, Hamas and Fatah are set to finalize the unity government talks next week. If the White House has no plans to pressure Israel into negotiating with a government that includes Hamas, then why is it concentrating on getting Israel to accept its 1967 border policy instead of trying to prevent the imminent formation of the unity government? And why would the administration be trying to push both sides back to the negotiating table if it expects talks to halt as soon as Hamas joins with Fatah?



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