WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States reacted coolly on Wednesday to a reconciliation between the two main Palestinian factions, calling Hamas a “terrorist” group and saying any Palestinian government must renounce violence.
The Obama administration carefully repeated demands by the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators that are likely to be unpalatable to Hamas, including that any government respect past peace agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Forging Palestinian unity has been seen as essential to reviving any hope of an independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas has governed since 2007 after a civil war, and the West Bank, where the Fatah faction holds sway.
“The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.
“To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist,” he said.
The “Quartet” is comprised of the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States.
Spokespersons for the White House and the State Department said that they were seeking more information about the reported deal between the two groups.
Western powers have refused to deal with Hamas because of its refusal to give up violence and to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Robert Danin, a Middle East expert at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations, said lack of details about the Palestinian deal made it difficult to assess how it might effect the U.S.-led drive to relaunch direct peace talks, although it could create new obstacles.
“This development will make the Israelis more reluctant to really engage. They are not going to want to negotiate the final status issues with a government that includes Hamas,” Danin said, adding that the Palestinians might also seek to move slowly.
“A government that is a transitional one on its way to elections within a year is not going to be very conciliatory,” he said.
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen and Paul Simao