It’s a simple question, and yet Obama administration officials are continuing to dance around the answer. Last week, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent asked David Axelrod whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, and here was Axelrod’s response:
“The president does not believe that any country can be asked to negotiate with a terrorist organization that is sworn to its destruction and unwilling to abandon that goal or embrace a peaceful settlement of the conflict,” [Axelrod] said. “He could not have been clearer about that.”
But the question wasn’t whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with Hamas. The question was whether Israel would be expected to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that included Hamas. As I wrote last month, there could certainly be a unity arrangement in which Fatah alone handled the negotiations, and Hamas was charged with running the domestic services portion of the administration. Would Israel then be expected to negotiate with such a government?
We don’t know because, as far as I’ve seen, the administration hasn’t definitively said.
“No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction,” Obama said during his AIPAC speech. “We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government,” White House Middle East director Steve Simon reportedly said during an off-the-record conference call with Jewish community leaders. But it’s unclear whether that includes a Hamas-Fatah unity arrangement.
It wouldn’t be difficult for the White House to simply say, “We don’t expect Israel to negotiate with a Hamas-Fatah unity government.” But by explicitly stating this, the administration would be taking a major option off the table. White House officials are desperate to restart peace talks, and they may think that will require putting pressure on Israel to sit down with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.