Israel Furious Over U.S. Decision To Work With Palestinians
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So among other things, this development exposed a disagreement between the United States and Israel. The U.S. says it wants to work with the Palestinian unity government, if possible. Israel does not.
Let's turn now to Israel's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, who's on the phone. Embassador, welcome back to the program.
RON DERMER: Pleasure to be with you.
INSKEEP: So Israel said the U.S. is making a mistake. How are you expressing that view here in Washington?
DERMER: Well, look, as Mark Riggs (ph) said, Hamas is an unreformed terror organization. If we were dealing with the Palestinian unity government where Hamas would have changed, then it would be a completely different story. But Hamas remains committed to Israel's destruction. It's responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israelis. It's fired thousands of rockets at our cities. And you should remind your listeners that Hamas is an organization that condemned the United States for killing Osama bin Laden, a man that they called the holy warrior.
So yesterday, what we were hoping to hear was a strong message opposing President Abbas's decision to form a government with an unreformed terror organization. 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.
INSKEEP: I wonder if state department diplomats might ask you, what choice do we have? It's the only Palestinian government there is.
DERMER: Well, look - remember, yesterday was the day where this government was established. There's all sorts of questions that we have to consider and think about moving forward. But on the day that such a government is established with an unreformed terror organization, our expectation that there'd be a very, very strong message opposing this.
Even a few hours before, Sec. Kerry had issued a statement saying that he was deeply concerned with the government. We were expecting to hear those concerns stressed yesterday in the hours following this decision of the Palestinians to form of government. And that's why we think that this was a mistake that was made by the administration and why we were so disappointed.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, Israel is saying that with Hamas as part of this unity government, the Palestinian Authority is going to be held responsible for rockets that Hamas has fired into Israel from Gaza. What does that mean, holding the Palestinian Authority responsible?
DERMER: Well, that's a decision that the decision makers in Jerusalem are going to have to make. But you should - your listeners should be reminded that Hamas controls - effectively controls at Gaza. They have thousands of rockets in their arsenal. They have already fired thousands of rockets at Israel. So what's going to happen today, tomorrow, the next day when Hamas fires a rocket? Is President Abbas going to say, well, that's not my problem, that's Hamas?
Yes, we do have a unity government. And yes, you should recognize me as being the leader of all the Palestinians. But at the same time, I'm not responsible for terror against Israel. So he can't have it both ways. He can't form a government with Hamas and ask the whole world to recognize it and just say well, it's business as usual, and at the same time say that he is no longer responsible for the terror that Hamas is perpetrating. That's unacceptable.
INSKEEP: Possible you'll get some leverage then in this situation? Might you? Because you can go to Abbas and demand changes.
DERMER: Well, look, what we want is we want a Palestinian partner who's committed to peace. That would be the best thing for us. And if he would have - if we would have seen a change in Hamas, if they would've recognized Israel's right to exist, if they would've abandoned terrorism, then this would be a unity for peace. Instead, we don't have a change in Hamas whatsoever, and Abbas - President Abbas of the Palestinians - is moving away from peace.
We would like him to annul this pact with Hamas and to go back to peace negotiations with Israel because that is the only path forward. And the way that we can make sure that Abbas is doing the right thing is to make sure that governments around the world who consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization, which is not just the United States - it's also the European Union. It's also Australia. It's also Japan. It's Canada. It's Egypt.
All of those governments 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.
INSKEEP: Let me...
DERMER: That's what we were hoping to hear yesterday. Unfortunately, we didn't hear it from the State Department. We did hear it in a bipartisan way in Congress.
INSKEEP: Let me play you some tape, Ambassador Dermer, from President Obama. This is from our interview on MORNING EDITION last week - tape that maybe takes on a little more meaning now.
We were talking about foreign policy, and the President spoke of things he wanted to accomplish before he leaves office in a couple of years. And he mentioned the Mid-East peace process.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have not yet given up on the possibility that both Israelis and Palestinians can see their self-interest in a peace deal that would provide Israel's security that's recognized by its neighbors and make sure that Palestinians have a state of their own.
INSKEEP: That's the president speaking on MORNING EDITION last week. Let me ask you, Ambassador Dermer. The president says - Pres. Obama says he has not given up on a peace deal in the next couple of years. Has Israel given up at this point?
DERMER: No, we share the president's hope. And we also appreciate the fact that both Pres. Obama and Sec. Kerry has invested a lot of time and effort to try to get this peace process moving forward. And it's precisely because we share those hopes that we were so disappointed with President Abbas's decision to reach out to Hamas. As I said...
INSKEEP: Just a few seconds left here.
DERMER: ...If Hamas changes, it's a good thing. But with an unreformed Hamas, this is not a step forward to peace. This is a giant leap backwards.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, thank you very much.
DERMER: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Ron Dermer is Israel's ambassador to the United States. And he speaks with us on this morning after Palestinians formed a unity government that includes Fatah but also the party Hamas. We will continue covering this story right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.