The State Department played down warnings Tuesday over the latest step toward a unity government between Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah, saying "the fundamentals have not changed" despite claims that the deal imperils the already anemic peace process.
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Tuesday with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and they discussed how "it's not particularly clear what this agreement will change."
Under the terms announced Monday in Qatar, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would lead an interim joint government in advance of new elections. Abbas leads the Fatah faction, which controls the West Bank; Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group, effectively runs the Gaza Strip.
"We still have President Abbas at the head of the government," Nuland said Tuesday in reaction to the unity government announcement. "We still have Prime Minister (Salam) Fayyad responsible, so frankly any impact this may or may not have is unclear."
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others were more definitive, saying Hamas and peace do not mix. While Fatah and Hamas have been moving toward a unity government since last year, Netanyahu warned the latest step undermines other efforts at peace.
"If President Abbas moves to implement what was signed ... in Doha, he will abandon the path of peace and join forces with the enemies of peace," Netanyahu said in a written statement. "Hamas is an enemy of peace. It's an Iranian-backed terror organization committed to Israel's destruction. It has not accepted the minimal conditions set by the international community."
Netanyahu said Abbas could not have it "both ways."
"It's either a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel. It's one or the other," he said.
On Capitol Hill in Washington, several pro-Israel lawmakers met with Lieberman on Tuesday.
Among them, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, described the Hamas-Fatah deal as "trouble."
In an earlier statement, she said the Obama administration should "stop pretending (the Palestinian Authority) is something it is not."
"The Palestinian leaders in Ramallah are not partners for peace and security, as this latest union with Hamas clearly demonstrates. It's time for the administration to hold the PA accountable for its actions," she said, claiming the latest deal represents a "path of extremism and rejectionism."
Nuland said Tuesday that the U.S. will continue to work with "the partners that we have on the Palestinian side."
She expressed hope about a nascent set of talks that has recently been conducted in Jordan between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Nuland also said the U.S. and Israel share the same "red lines" with regard to Hamas. As countless officials have stated before, she said Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist, commit to non-violence and abide by previous agreements -- conditions Hamas has not accepted.