2017-10-11 / Mideast

With America’s blessing, Abbas signals a Palestinian Authority reconciliation with Hamas

By RON KAMPEAS JTA


President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23. 
JTA photo by Flash90. President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23. JTA photo by Flash90. WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is encouraging the Palestinian Authority to assume control of the Gaza Strip and leaving the door open for a role by Hamas in the subsequent Palestinian government.

But if such a move was once seen as a traditional predicate to a two-state solution, top Palestinian leaders are hedging their bets, saying they would not rule out a “one-state” solution in which Palestinians have the same one-person, one-vote rights as Israelis. Israeli leaders have long said that would mean the end of the Jewish state.

Palestinian Authority government officials returned to the Gaza Strip, the first en masse visit—by Cabinet and security officials along with top bureaucrats— since Hamas’ bloody ouster of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement a decade ago.

It was a visit twice blessed by the Trump administration, first through a statement by the Quartet, the grouping that guides the peace process, and again with a statement from Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator.

“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza, as noted in the September 28 Quartet statement,” Greenblatt said in a statement he posted on Twitter.

The Quartet statement, while itself also abjuring mention of “two states,” made it clear that it foresaw a single Palestinian entity under P.A. rule. It urged “the parties”— the Palestinian Authority and Hamas—“to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority.”

The P.A. visit to Gaza, brokered by Egypt, a key ally to the United States and Israel, is only for several days, but Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington and a top Abbas adviser, anticipated a consolidation of the Palestinian Authority presence there.

Zomlot, speaking to reporters here, noted that Hamas dissolved its governing body and said the Palestinian Authority expected that Hamas would formally hand over governance of the strip. The final stage, he said, would be elections.

“The return of the Palestinian Authority” to Gaza “is a milestone for the Palestinian Authority and of President Trump’s deal of the century,” Zomlot said, using a phrase Abbas used in a meeting with Trump on Sept. 20.

A signal of the White House’s seriousness is the likelihood that Hamas will continue to play a role in governing the strip. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, heeding Israeli concerns, rejected any role for Hamas in Palestinian governance, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly it would be a deal breaker.

Now, however, careful phrasing by U.S. and Palestinian officials strongly suggests that Hamas will not fade into the night. Zomlot called the changes in Gaza “the return of the consensus government,” the joint Hamas-P.A. venture that existed uneasily in 2006- 07 and infuriated the administration of George W. Bush.

Greenblatt in his statement nodded to concerns about Hamas, a State Departmentdesignated terrorist group, but in language vague enough to accommodate a Hamas role.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.

That slides over earlier Israeli demands that not just a Palestinian government, but all of its components, must renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking to a Likud party meeting in the West Bank, maintained—at least in part—a tough line on the terms of a reconciliation acceptable to Israel. He said Hamas must be disarmed, but did not count out explicitly keeping Hamas figures within the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy.

“We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, to recognize a Jewish state, and we are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence,” Netanyahu said in Maale Adumim, a settlement of 40,000 located just east of Jerusalem.” 

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