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State Department pressed to defend Palestinian unity deal terms "reminiscent of Hezbollah in Lebanon"

Posted by Albert Gersh - June 02, 2014

Deepening concerns that Monday's newly announced Palestinian unity government locks in a "Hezbollah model" for any future Palestinian state - a dynamic that has among other things proven terminal to Lebanese efforts to create robust political institutions - made their way into the day's State Department briefing, with spokeswoman Jen Psaki being pressed by journalists on whether "the State Department [is] concerned that this is going to create a situation in Gaza similar to the Hezbollah entity in Lebanon." The references are to the terms of the unity pact, hammered out between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions, under which Hamas is allowed to maintain its forces and tens of thousands of Iran-supplied missiles independent of any central Palestinian government. Officials from the terror group had already bragged last week that the unity pact had established for them the same arrangement that allows Hezbollah to dominate Lebanon, a boast that got the attention of both U.S. analysts and Arabic-language journalists [Arabic]. Dr. Kobi Michael, a former deputy director general at Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told reporters on a conference call organized by The Israel Project that the arrangement constituted "the Lebanonization of the Palestinian arena." Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), unpacked the controversy more extensively, noting among other things that the provisions are "reminiscent of Hezbollah in Lebanon, where an Iranian-funded and Iranian-trained fighting force can drag an entire nation into a full-scale war without government consultations." Psaki responded to today's question by promising to "continue to evaluate the specifics here" and emphasizing that "Abbas has consistently upheld his responsibility to maintain security coordination, and he’s publicly stressed his commitment to doing that. We expect him to continue to uphold that commitment." She did not clarify which specifics the State Department remained unclear about - Hamas's right to maintain its arsenal per the terms of the new unity government is uncontroversial - nor why Abbas's commitment to security coordination would address concerns about conditions theoretically outside that purview. For their part Hamas officials assured supporters on Monday that their brigades were "in good condition."
Lawmakers from both major parties and both chambers of Congress moved on Monday to condemn the formation of a new Palestinian unity government - agreed to in recent days by the rival Hamas and Fatah factions, and announced Monday morning by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas - with Al Monitor's Congress Pulse summing up the sentiment late in the day under the terse headline "Congress to Obama: Cut aid to Palestinians." Al Monitor read congressional remarks - which directly called for the application of blackletter Congressional law banning aid from going to Hamas-linked Palestinian governments - against the backdrop of the Obama administration's decision, outlined at Monday's State Department briefing by spokesperson Jen Psaki, to keep working with the new consensus cabinet. Psaki had remarked that, rather than cut off assistance per almost a decade of U.S. legislation, the White House would be "watching closely" and "closely monitoring" the new government to learn things about it. Al Monitor assessed the view on the Hill as holding that "the administration was being hoodwinked." It quoted Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) declaring that "the administration must not fall for [Abbas's] latest ploy and instead enforce US law and cut off funding," a stance echoed by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA). It also quoted Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) - chairwoman of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs - flatly announcing that "funding for the Palestinians is off-the-table until it is clear that the unity government is committed to peace and security," and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) remarking that Abbas's decision "places in jeopardy the millions of dollars in foreign assistance." Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) had quickly published a statement declaring that Abbas's "decision to unite with Hamas only further diminishes the prospects for peace." On the Senate side, Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) reiterated that "current U.S. law is clear – any government over which an unreformed Hamas exercises undue influence and which emerges from a Fatah/Hamas deal is not an appropriate recipient of U.S. assistance" and noted that "the naming of a technocratic slate of ministers by President Abbas seems to be an attempted end run around these obligations."
The Associated Press on Monday conveyed comments from the head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog (IAEA) assessing that the pace being made in addressing the so-called possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran's nuclear program - which stretch from the Iranian military's involvement in mining uranium all the way to tests related to nuclear detonations - may end up hampering efforts to ink a comprehensive nuclear agreement into 2015. The wire reported that IAEA chief Yukiya Amano had bluntly told journalists that the IAEA, which is seeking to gain transparency into the degree to which the Iranian military is entangled in Tehran's atomic program, will not have concluded its probes by the time that the July 20 deadline set by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) passes. The timeline is a function both of past Iranian opacity - Reuters referred to the IAEA's "long-thwarted probe into suspected atom bomb research" in its writeup - and to ongoing Iranian foot-dragging on a variety of PMD-related issues. Amano responded to suggestions that his agency's work can be hastened by remarking that "I can understand the expectation from many countries and people to accelerate the process, and I myself would like to see a speeding up." The PMD issue, which has for years been a core concern in the West's approach to Iran, is considered critical to establishing a robust verification regime in the context of any deal between the P5+1 global powers and Iran. Washington Institute Managing Director Michael Singh months ago gave a textbook rundown of the dynamic, concluding among other things that "[w]ithout insight into the full extent of Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, no amount of monitoring and inspection can provide true confidence that Iran lacks a parallel program beyond inspectors’ view."
Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Monday conveyed statements from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warning Tehran's neighbors that they would have to pay a "high price" for supporting forces throughout the region aligned against the Islamic republic, declaring that those countries' had failed to "heed... the danger" of backing heretic "Takfiri groups." The wire somewhat archly noted that Khamenei's comments came "during a meeting with the visiting Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah whose trip to Tehran has been widely seen as an attempt to warm up the frosty ties between Iran and Sunni-ruled monarchies in the Gulf." The comments will be read in the context of what is increasingly taken as a 'new normal' in the Middle East: a Shiite crescent stretching in the north from the Levant to Iran, a de facto Israeli-Sunni camp across the Gulf and North Africa, and a Turkish/Qatari/Muslim Brotherhood axis. The hardening divisions have been seen as raising geopolitical stakes across the region. Among other things, Arab states have among other things been explicit that they will seek nuclear capabilities should they conclude that the international community is insufficiently constraining Iran's nuclear ambitions. UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahyan over the weekend emphasized that Arab-Iranian tensions in fact extend beyond the nuclear issue, blasting Tehran for "interfering" in the internal affairs of Gulf states. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have for years been demanding that the Islamic republic roll back efforts they insist are aimed at undermining their internal stability.

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