US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged continued allegiance on Wednesday to strong security ties with Israel, even as he reiterated the US would engage the new Palestinian unity government backed by Hamas.
Speaking at a press conference in Beirut amid a serious policy disagreement with Israel, Kerry – asked why the US felt it had to "recognize the unity Palestinian government immediately" – stressed that Washington does not recognize a "government with respect to Palestine, because that would recognize a state, and there is not a state."
Kerry said he has daily conversations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on this matter as "a friend as well as the prime minister of the country."
He stressed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas assured him that "this new technocratic government is committed to the principles of nonviolence, negotiations, recognizing the state of Israel, acceptance of the previous agreements and the Quartet principles, and that they will continue their previously agreed upon security cooperation with Israel."
Kerry said that Abbas has formed an "interim technocratic government that does not include any ministers who are affiliated with Hamas," and that Washington has looked into the identity of each of the ministers and determined they are indeed not affiliated with the organization. As a result, he said, "we will work with it as we need to, as is appropriate."
He said the US will work with the government in the same way Israel is "obviously working with it for security purposes. It has transferred revenues. There are certain day-to-day needs." Kerry promised that Washington would conduct a "day-to-day" evaluation of the new government and "calibrate our approach accordingly."
The US, he said, would be watching the new government "very closely, as we have said from day one, to absolutely ensure that it upholds each of those things it has talked about, that it doesn’t cross the line."
The secretary of state reiterated the US position that Hamas is a terrorist organization which has not accepted the Quartet principles and continues to call for the destruction of Israel, "even as it moves into this new posture."
"Israel is our friend, our strong ally" Kerry said, saying that the US-Israeli security relationship has never been as strong as it is now under US President Barack Obama.
"We are deeply committed. We’ve said again and again the bonds of our relationship extend way beyond security," he said. "They are time-honored and as close, I think, as any country in the world. We will stand by Israel, as we have in the past. There is nothing that is changing our security relationship. That is ironclad."
Be that as it may, Israel did nothing to hide its deep disappointment with the US policy, with Netanyahu saying Tuesday that he was "deeply troubled by the announcement that the United States will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas." Saying that Hamas is a "brutal terrorist organization," Netanyahu pointed out that it has murdered "countless innocent civilians, including Americans.
”I think the United States must make it absolutely clear to the Palestinian president that its pact with Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks Israel's liquidation , is simply unacceptable," he said.
Israel's ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, also made clear Israel's displeasure, even drawing a distinction – rarely made in public by senior Israeli officials –between the administration's position toward an issue impacting on Israel, and that of Congress.
Key members of Congress from both parties have come out firmly against the Palestinian unity government, threatening to discontinue US aid to the PA as a result.
"What we were hoping to hear was a strong message opposing President Abbas's decision to form a government with an unreformed terror organization," Dermer said in an interview Tuesday with NPR. "Instead, it sounded more like business as usual. And that's why we were very disappointed. I must say that we did hear a strong message of opposition from both sides of the aisle in Congress. And we do deeply appreciate that."
Dermer said that the world's governments that consider Hamas a terrorist organization – including the US, the countries of the European Union, Australia, Japan, Canada and Egypt, "should send a very clear signal to Abbas that forming an alliance with a terror organization that has not changed at all is a big mistake."