'A Direct Affront' to Kerry: With 'Little Fear' of Washington, Fatah-Hamas Pact Crushes Peace Process

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's relentless push for some sort of first-stage Mideast peace deal by the end of this month was dealt a strong blow by Fatah and Hamas deciding to put aside their differences and unite.

Hamas' information office said the pact between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Mashal was simply implementing the previous unity agreements signed years ago in Doha and Cairo -- pacts followed by years of vicious fighting between the parties.

Abbas agreed to "start talks on forming the new transitional national unity government that will be formed within five weeks, and will be holding talks on declaring new elections that would be held at least six months after the new government is formed," according to Hamas' Ezzedeen Al-Qasam Brigades.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared this move "tantamount to a signature on the conclusion of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

"It is impossible to make peace with Israel as well as with Hamas, a terrorist organization advocating for Israel's destruction," Lieberman said.

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki admitted to reporters at Wednesday's briefing that the "timing" of the agreement was "troubling," and at today's briefing a journalist commented that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry "have managed to pull off the full Quixote here, or rather a double-Quixote, that is not only having tilted at the windmills, but having lost."

Psaki placed the blame at the feet of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, noting that "if we look back at the last several months, over the course of nine months even, there are unhelpful steps that have been taken by both parties."

"There have been ups and downs in the process throughout. And still, this process needs to work its way through," she said.

She said Kerry called Abbas this morning. "The secretary noted that he was disappointed by the reconciliation announcement and repeated the elements that any Palestinian government would need to have, the same principles that President Abbas has long supported. President Abbas, again, they decided they would remain in touch," she continued.

"Of course, the principles -- just to reiterate what I said yesterday, but for those of you who weren't here, the three principles are, of course, commitment to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties," Psaki added. "They also discussed efforts underway, those efforts that have been underway between Israelis and Palestinians to extend the negotiations. I also just wanted to reiterate that we view it as essential that both parties exercise, all sides exercise maximum restraint and avoid escalatory steps."

Psaki said Kerry bent Abbas' ear about "the benefits of… a final status agreement." She said he'd be having the same conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When asked if Abbas told Kerry why he felt the need to power-share with Hamas now, Psaki replied, "That's not a part of the conversation I'm going to read out."

As the administration tried to keep the hope of a road map alive, Netanyahu made clear that "whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace."

"Abu Mazen has formed an alliance with an organization whose covenant calls for Muslims to fight and kill Jews. Hamas has fired more than 10,000 missiles and rockets at Israeli territory and has not halted terrorist actions against Israel even for a minute," Netanyahu said after the Israeli cabinet unanimously agreed to not negotiate with a Hamas-backed government and to respond to the provocation with "a series of measures."

"The agreement between Abu Mazen and Hamas was signed even as Israel is making efforts to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians. It is the direct continuation of the Palestinians' refusal to advance the negotiations," the prime minister continued. "Only last month Abu Mazen rejected the framework principles proposed by the United States. Abu Mazen has refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish People. He violated existing agreements by unilaterally applying to accede to international treaties and then formed an alliance with Hamas."

Netanyahu told MSNBC today that Abbas' decision was "a giant leap backward."

He called Fatah's pledge that they would continue to comprise the majority of the government "the oldest trick in the book… the 'front office/back office gambit.'"

"Would you negotiate with a government that is backed by al-Qaeda, that calls for the destruction of America, that has murdered Americans?" Netanyahu said. "By the way, Hamas, Hamas, has praised Osama bin Laden as a great holy warrior and condemned the United States for killing bin Laden. This is the organization that we are now asked to sit with. That won't happen."

He added that there needs to be "a clear understanding between the United States and Israel that Israel, as I said, will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas."

The stall of the talks comes as Israel delayed the fourth round of Palestinian prisoner releases, agreements that Netanyahu called an "agonizing decision" to release "terrorists who murdered Israelis… in pursuit of advancing peace."

"But I wasn't going to release the last batch when Abu Mazen, when the President Abbas was clearly thinking of throwing up -- you know, throwing up the whole peace process and -- and smashing it to the ground, as unfortunately he has," the prime minister added.

At a press availability with his Norwegian counterpart in Washington today, Kerry was asked if there's a way to move forward now with their Mideast peace process plans.

"Well, there's always a way forward, but leaders have to make the compromises necessary to do that. We may see a way forward, but if they're not willing to make the compromises necessary, it becomes very elusive," Kerry said. "We will never give up our hope or our commitment for the possibilities of peace. We believe it is the only way to go. But right now, obviously, it's at a very difficult point. And the leaders themselves have to make decisions. It's up to them."

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee issued a memo today calling the unity government "a direct affront to Secretary of State John Kerry and a severe blow to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts."

"Any Palestinian government that includes Hamas cannot be a negotiating partner unless it meets longstanding Quartet demands ensconced in U.S. law: recognize Israel, reject violence, and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements," the AIPAC memo added.

J Street blamed Israel, saying in a statement that "both sides seem intent on taking steps that deepen tension and content with playing the blame game rather than trying to resolve the conflict."

"J Street believes the Israeli government’s decision to suspend peace talks with the Palestinians over the preliminary reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas is premature," the lobbying group said in a statement. "The reconciliation agreement has yet to be implemented, and many critical questions remain unanswered. With five days left before the deadline for Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative, all involved should be searching for purposeful actions to revive the troubled process, not accelerating its demise."

"…Today, Israel is dealing with the same entities it has been dealing with since the beginning of this process— the PLO and a Palestinian government that rejects terrorism and believes in a two-state solution and Israel’s right to exist in peace and security," continues the J Street statement. "It is premature for either the Israeli government or the US Congress to take steps to punish the Palestinian Authority for this reconciliation agreement before the composition and policies of the new government are known. Suspending peace talks or American aid will hurt Israel's long-term security as much or more as it will hurt the Palestinians."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he hopes "Congress will take a forceful stand" against Abbas' agreement.

“The recent decision by the Palestinian Authority to align themselves with Hamas is deeply disturbing on multiple fronts. Hamas is, by any rational definition, a terrorist organization. The decision by the Palestinian Authority to align with Hamas makes any future peace negotiations with Israel impossible," Graham said.

“This is a provocative act by the Palestinian Authority which runs counter to serious peace negotiations with Israel. It clearly demonstrates the Palestinians have little fear or respect for the Obama administration."