The Financial Times (subscription may be required) reports that U.S. officials have threatened prospective cabinet ministers in a new Hamas-led government:
US officials are exerting pressure on moderate Palestinian politicians not to serve in a Hamas-led government and have warned that Washington would sever existing contacts with them if they did.
According to Palestinians familiar with Hamas’s current efforts to put together a national unity government following its election victory in January, Washington has targeted a number of independents the Islamist movement was considering for cabinet posts.
The Bush administration favours a situation in which Hamas would be forced to govern alone and would bear the full consequences of failures that could be exacerbated by a cut-off of western aid to the Palestinian Authority.
As well as discouraging the defeated Fatah party from joining a coalition with Hamas, US officials have privately contacted leading independents to urge them to stay out of the government.
It was not clear to what extent the administration was threatening sanctions against individuals or whether the administration would have legal grounds on which to deny them future entry to the US.
They were said to include Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestine National Initiative which won two seats in January, and Ziad Abu Amr, an independent who won a seat in Gaza with Hamas backing.
Further, Mideastwire (a news service which translates articles from the Arab press) reports a story from Al Quds in which the incoming speaker of the Hamas-led Palestine Legislative Council, Aziz Duwaik, reveals that an unnamed prospective minister of the Hamas cabinet was threatened with retaliation by the U.S. consulate:
According to a report by Ma’an News Agency on March 12: “Dr Aziz Duwayk, Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said the US Consulate in Jerusalem had contacted a candidate for a ministerial post in a Hamas government, threatening …that if he participates in the government, the US government would take measure[s] against him, including denying him an entry visa to the United States.
Abu Amr denied that the U.S. had contacted him and said he would “refuse any external pressure” regarding such a decision. Barghouti also denied such contacts:
[I have edited the text as the original seems poorly translated] Dr. Mustapha Barghouthi denied the Financial Times [report claiming] the US administration pressure[d] the independent blocks in the PLC and him personally not to join the Hamas government.
Barghouthi told Maan via telephone that th[is report] has nothing to do with reality and [is] baseless as there [has been] no pressure and that contacts with the Americans [did not happen] in this regard adding that we in [the] Palestine Independent Block called for the formation of [a] National Coalition Government as we believe this what [the] Palestinian people need.
Though one would think that even if such jawboning happened both would have no choice but to deny it–to do otherwise could tarnish their credentials as independents. If we threatened them and they refuse to join the cabinet then they will be charged with kowtowing to the Americans. And if they agree to serve they will establish themselves as enemies of the U.S. which would limit their potential effectiveness as the U.S. might refuse to deal with them.
If we did intervene in this fashion, then we have some serious questions to ask regarding our commitment to Mideast democracy. We called for Palestinian elections and the party we wanted to lose won instead. Instead of letting Hamas get on with its job of governing, we do our best to throw obstacles in its path. We want Hamas to fail. And we’re not above threats and intimidation to attain such a result. I’ve got to admit it’s a lot tamer than what Kissinger and Nixon did to Chile when Allende came to power. But it’s no less permissible than what we did then.
My perspective on this is: let Hamas form a government. Stand back and let it happen. If you refuse to do anything positive, then at least be neutral. And my warning is that if we are seen to be meddling in Palestinian politics we could destroy any chance of being seen as even a semi-honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Besides, as many Mideast commentators have noted–if Hamas fails the result may not be better than the present. It could be far worse. The resulting bitterness on Hamas’ part could result in severe civil strife–even more lawlessness and chaos than Palestine now endures. And who would pick up Humpty Dumpty’s pieces and put Palestine back together again? It would be a mighty tall order.