Obama, Kerry Deplore Killing of Israeli Teens; Silent on Hamas and 'Unity' Gov't

By Patrick Goodenough | June 30, 2014 | 8:01 PM EDT

Family and friends of one of the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrah, gather outside the family home in central Israel on Monday, June 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry both issued statements Monday condemning the killing of three Israeli teenagers, but neither mentioned Hamas or called on Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to end his unity deal with the terrorist group, which Israel holds responsible for the murders.

Both statements also cautioned against any action that could “destabilize” the situation on the ground. While not explicitly stated, that advice was likely aimed at Israel, whose Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said a short while earlier, “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.”

“I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation,” Obama said, while Kerry in his statement called on “all” to work towards the goal of bringing the perpetrators to justice, “without destabilizing the situation.”

The Israeli government said the bound and partly buried bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were found in a field near P.A.-administered Hebron, about 12 miles from where they went missing on their way home from school on June 12.

They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals,” Netanyahu said during an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday night.

“We are deeply saddened,” he told the families of the three boys. “The entire nation weeps with you.”

One of the three boys, Naftali Fraenkel, held dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship.

For 18 days Israelis had united behind the families of the missing boys, with prayer vigils and rallies, as security forces searched across the West Bank, arresting more than 400 Palestinians, most of them Hamas members. The P.A. accused Israel of using the operation to pursue a goal of “undermining Palestinian national unity and institutions.”

Last Thursday Israel’s security service named two Hamas operatives in Hebron as key suspects in the abduction. Marwan Kawasmeh and Amer Abu Eisha remain at large.

Hamas has denied throughout that it was responsible for the boys’ disappearance, although its leaders did praise those responsible. Hamas has long recommended kidnapping as a way to secure the release of imprisoned Palestinians, and in Oct. 2011 secured the release of more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for a single soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip for five years.

One month ago, Abbas established a Hamas-backed national unity government after striking a reconciliation agreement to end a seven-year feud between the group, which controls the Gaza Strip, and his Fatah organization.

At the time Netanyahu called on the international community to repudiate the move and to urge Abbas to end the deal with a group that has not renounced violence or abandoned its declared dedication to Israel’s destruction.

The plea largely fell on deaf ears, however. Abbas had ensured that no ministers in the unity government had direct links to Hamas – naming “technocrats” instead – and the Obama administration, like other donor governments, said it would continue to fund the P.A. while keeping a close eye on developments.

That stance came under renewed criticism after Monday’s discovery of the teenagers’ bodies.

“This is not a time for ambiguity but for decisive action,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), a Jewish human rights group, said in a statement.

“President Obama must tell the Palestinian people that peace and Hamas are mutually exclusive,” said SWC dean Marvin Hier and associate dean Abraham Cooper. They said he should make clear that the U.S. will no deal with a P.A. government involving any member of Hamas, whether “political, military, or technocrat.”

If the U.S. government was serious about Israeli restraint, Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director Robert Satloff tweeted, “it would suspend ties to Hamas-backed P.A. gov.”

Israeli teens Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, who disappeared near the West Bank city of Hebron on June 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Israel Defense Forces)

P.A. is ‘making every effort’

Immediately after the boys went missing, Kerry stated that “many indications point to Hamas’ involvement,” although the State Department was subsequently cautious in ascribing blame

“We’ve seen similar tactics taken in the past by Hamas, but I don’t want to jump to a conclusion at this point in time,” department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said several days after Kerry’s original comment.

At Monday’s daily press briefing, as news was breaking about the discovery of the bodies, Psaki was asked whether Hamas’ involvement in the kidnapping, if established, would prompt the administration to reconsider its support for the P.A. unity government

“I’m not going to make a prediction,” she said. “I don’t know what the outcome will be of the final findings.”

Psaki was also asked about a barrage of more than a dozen rockets fired from Gaza into Israel early on Monday, and she said that Abbas had “on many occasions also renounced this type of action.”

“And there’s a certain responsibility in conveying that to any entities that the Palestinians are tied with,” she added.

Asked whether the administration believed the unity government was abiding by the commitments Abbas has signed up to – obligations to renounce and combat violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and abide by existing agreements – Psaki replied in the affirmative.

“Well, I think the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas and the technocratic government that doesn’t involve members of Hamas, yes, they are making every effort to,” she said. “Obviously, when there are incidents of violence, when there are rocket attacks, those are certainly cause for concern and we take every incident into consideration.”

In a joint statement U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), chairman and ranking member respectively of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, expressed sorrow at the news and support for the Israeli government in finding the perpetrators.

“If it is determined that Hamas is behind this horrific tragedy, Abu Mazen [Abbas] must immediately break up the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization,” said the two, who are currently visiting Israel and Jordan.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow