Israeli leaders are understandably furious that the Obama administration has expressed support for Palestine’s new unity government, insisting that in doing so the White House endorsed a terrorist organization, Hamas, which is part of the new government.
“If the U.S. administration wants to advance peace, it should be calling on [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas to end his pact with Hamas and return to peace talks with Israel,” an official statement released by the Israeli government declared.
Adding to Israel’s outrage is its realization that the international community, by and large, is expected to follow the Obama administration’s example and endorse the unity government.
Abbas has promised Washington that the new government would recognize Israel and renounce violence, but given Hamas’ history, including numerous bombings, rocket attacks and other attacks on Israeli civilians, Israel’s skepticism is entirely justified. Even after the unity pact agreement, Hamas leaders have said their strategy would not change.
It is another case of the Obama administration being overeager and incautious in the pursuit of peace agreements.
A State Department spokesman says the administration has no intention of cutting off the $500 million of annual financial support the United States sends to the cash-strapped Palestine Authority, despite Hamas being part of the new unity government.
Jen Psaki, speaking for the department, suggested that the ministers in the new Palestinian government “appear to be technocratic” and that Washington “will be judging this government by its actions.” Then she added, “If needed, we will recalibrate our approach.”
Absent any such recalibration, however, the administration’s position on the unity government has certainly alienated the Israeli leadership, which fears that the unity government’s plans for new elections later this year could result in Hamas gaining political power in the West Bank.
“Generally speaking, as a matter of principle, we support democratic, free and fair elections,” Psaki said. “Our view is it’s too early to speculate on what the outcome will be, and we’ll let events proceed.”
In the meantime, the long-standing enmity between Israel and the Palestinians found a new would-be mediator last weekend when Pope Francis brought leaders of both sides together at the Vatican to join in prayer and to promise to pursue peace. Although officially the two governments are not on speaking terms, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas kissed each other on the cheek and then planted an olive tree.
These gestures, prompted by the pope, were designed to demonstrate their commitment to try to finally end their conflict, one of the longest in the world.
“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare,” Pope Francis observed. “Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.”
Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers were recited in English, Italian, Arabic and Hebrew during the service at the Vatican.
It remains to be seen if the spokesman for the world’s many Catholics can be more effective than any government leader in opening the door to lasting peace between rival populations of the region.
Obama is by no means the first American president to stumble in the role of peace broker between Israel and Palestine, and he probably won’t be the last ... unless Pope Francis somehow pulls off a miracle.