(JTA) — The new Palestinian unity government brought together rivals Hamas and Fatah, but it has opened a divide between allies Israel and the United States.
“I’m deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Obama administration’s announcement this week that it would continue working with and funding the Palestinian Authority under the new Hamas-backed unity government appears to have taken Israel aback. It represents something of a shift for the United States, which previously had voiced sympathy for Israeli concerns about the Palestinian unity government.
Analysts said the sharpness of the Israeli reaction should be seen in the context of anxieties that this and other U.S. moves could leave Israel isolated on vital matters.
“Take a step back and look at the trend line to see Israelis are deeply concerned about a nuclear Iran and the Americans’ engagement with Iran,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank. “We’re now looking at another situation where an illicit actor that endangers Israel is now being rehabilitated.”
Nathan Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, said Israel’s concerns were about more than just the issue of Hamas.
“It’s clear that the U.S. and Israelis are not really coordinating on the issue,” Brown said. “Moving the dispute into public is unusual and it shows how worried Israel is about this development.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday swore in a government of technocrats that has the backing of his Fatah party, which is preeminent in the West Bank, and Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group that governs Gaza.
Abbas said the new government would abide by peace agreements and recognize Israel, although Hamas continues to reject both principles.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at Monday’s daily briefing for reporters that the United States would continue to deal with the new government and that funding would continue.
“At this point, it appears that President Abbas has formed an interim technocratic government that does not include ministers affiliated with Hamas,” she said.
“Moving forward, we will be judging this government by its actions,” she said. “Based on what we know now, we intend to work with this government, but we’ll be watching closely to ensure that it upholds the principles that President Abbas reiterated today.”