US: Palestinian Authority not liable for Wednesday’s Gaza rocket strike on Israel

Jerusalem demands PA unity government dismantle terrorist organizations while the US "acknowledges reality that Hamas controls Gaza."

Gaza rocket at sunset  (photo credit: REUTERS/ Darren Whiteside)
Gaza rocket at sunset
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Darren Whiteside)
The United States condemned Wednesday morning’s Gaza rocket attack against Israel but said it doesn’t at this time hold the Palestinian Authority liable for it, even though Hamas has sponsored its new government.
“We condemn all rocket fire from Gaza. It is unprovoked aggression against civilian targets and is totally unacceptable,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.
“We expect the Palestinian Authority will do everything in its power to prevent attacks from Gaza into Israel. But we acknowledge the reality that Hamas currently controls Gaza,” Psaki said.
The Kassam rocket narrowly missed a major traffic artery, Highway 232, landing in a nearby dirt field. It is the first rocket from Gaza to hit southern Israel since the new consensus government – jointly sponsored by Fatah and Hamas – was officially sworn into office last week.
Hamas has solely controlled Gaza since it ousted Fatah in a bloody coup in 2007.
Now that Fatah and Hamas are reunified and have jointly sponsored a new interim government, it is unclear if PA President Mahmoud Abbas can wield power in the strip.
The US and Israel are at odds over how much responsibility Abbas can reasonably be expected to have over Gaza, which remains under Hamas control.
Psaki told reporters that the US doesn’t hold Abbas liable for Hamas’ actions in Gaza, in spite of the new Fatah-Hamas unity pact.
“We feel President Abbas needs to do everything possible to prevent them, we understand that his ability to do that is severely limited at this point in time,” Psaki said.
Israel on Wednesday night responded to the rocket attack by launching a limited strike in the strip, killing a Jihad Salafist terrorist responsible for launching rockets against Israel.
Close to midnight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement that said, “I would like to remind the international community that Abu Mazen - on the day he formed a government with the Hamas terrorist organization - promised to honor all previous agreements.
“This means that he is responsible for disarming Hamas and the other terrorist organizations of the arsenals in Gaza,” Netanyahu said.
Earlier in the day his office sent out an English tweet with a similar message and a graphic of a rocket streaking across the Gaza skyline and two red blotches, which seemed to represent blood.
Abbas’s office condemned the attack and called on factions in Gaza to hold their fire in a statement it published on WAFA, the Palestinian News and Information Agency. But Abbas’s name was not included in the statement.
“The leadership calls on all Palestinian factions to honor the 2012 Cairo truce and the understandings of the reconciliation agreement out of keenness for the interest of the Palestinian people and their security and so as not to give Israel any excuse to continue its aggression against the Gaza Strip,” Abbas’s office said.
Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the condemnation and said action was needed and not empty statements.
He noted that in seeking world support for his new government, Abbas promised that it would honor past agreements, which include disarming terror organizations.
“President Abbas claims that the new Palestinian government honors all previous commitments. So why has he not disarmed the terrorist organizations in Gaza as he is obligated to do? Without such action his ‘condemnation’ of today’s rocket attack on Israel is nothing but empty rhetoric,” Regev said.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) called for Israel to freeze tax transfers to the PA in response to the rocket attack.
“This is a direct result of the Palestinian unity government agreement. We must stop the sending of funds to the Palestinian Authority,” Danon said.
Israel is already studying options in response to the new Palestinian government, which has already established a working relationship with the US and the European Union. But it has taken no action on the issue of tax transfers, the last payment of which was handed to the PA at the start of the month before the formal swearing in ceremony.
Psaki said the US still planned to provide the PA with financial assistance and that Wednesday’s attack has not changed that their police in this regard.
“We welcome President Abbas’s prompt and outspoken condemnation of this attack. We note that he has demanded that all the Palestinian factions remain committed to the [2012] ceasefire agreement,” Psaki said.
“We believe that President Abbas must do all in his power to prevent deterioration in the security situation, but we would also note that he has upheld his responsibility to maintain security coordination with Israel and he has publicly stressed his commitment to do that.
“And so I think he has made every effort to be – continue to be a partner in this regard,” Psaki said.
At one point in the briefing a reporter asked her “how many more rocket attacks do their have to be” before the US decided that its policy to work with the new government and provide it with financial assistance was a mistake.
Psaki said the US felt that this new Palestinian government had met and still meets the conditions necessary for a working relationship with Washington because it was composed of technocrats and that none of them were Hamas members.
She said that at present the US was satisfied that the new PA government has accepted the Quartet’s principles, which includes recognizing Israel and renouncing violence against it.
“The Palestinian people and our relationship with the Palestinian Authority is an important relationship to the United States. We continue to believe that support to them is something that is important to the United States,” Psaki said.