The Palestinian unity government that was sworn in Monday has been denounced in Jerusalem and met with an official wait-and-see in Washington. To soften the effect of his partnership with Hamas, President Mahmoud Abbas filled his cabinet with lawyers, businessmen and academics — none of whom proclaim to have direct connections to Abbas’ Fatah or to Hamas. Still, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that he does not consider the new government to be far enough removed from Hamas. “Today, Abu Mazen said yes to terrorism and no to peace,” he said, using Abbas’ nickname.
The paradox here is that because of the “unity government” moniker, Abbas can now claim to speak for all Palestinians in any peace negotiations with Israel, possibly making the rejection of any agreement less likely. And at the end of the day, Israel wants to make peace with a single party, not two.
But in reaching unity with Hamas, which the U.S., Israel and several other countries have designated a terrorist organization, Abbas puts outside support of the PA at risk because of Hamas’ continued rejection of Israel. Hamas continues to refuse to recognize Israel and refuses to renounce terror. And it continues to maintain thousands of rockets in Gaza. The technocratic unity government’s cabinet changes none of that.
The West and Israel have long called on Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce terror and honor previously signed agreements in order for it to be accepted as a legitimate player. If Hamas continues its refusals, U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority could be in jeopardy. Voices on Capitol Hill are already calling for a cutoff.
For its part, Israel has already said it will hold Abbas responsible if any rockets are launched into Israel. And Israel possesses the tools to damage the Palestinian economy through such means as the withholding of tax receipts Israel collects for the PA. Ambassador Ron Dermer summed up Israel’s position on the new government on his Facebook page: “With suits in the front office and terrorists in the back office, it should not be business as usual.”
Clearly, Hamas needs to change. The question that remains, however, is how to make Hamas want to change?