Fox News host and pundit Greta Van Susteren wrongly claimed on ABC’s This Week that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Hamas officials in Paris on July 26 to discuss a possible ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a back-and-forth with host George Stephanopoulos, Van Susteren described how Arab League members were upset that Kerry chose to meet with Hamas.
"That's why so many people were critical of Secretary Kerry going to Paris and talking with Hamas," she said. "The Arab League thought that that was, you know, supporting Hamas to the exclusion of the Arab League."
Van Susteren was not challenged about her claim on air, but no meeting took place. No American official is allowed to negotiate with Hamas because it is defined by the United States as a terrorist organization.
"If Kerry or his representatives were to meet with Hamas, they would spend the next 20 years in Leavenworth (Penitentiary)," said James Gelvin, a Middle East historian at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In a post on Twitter, Van Susteren acknowledged her error. "Meant to say Kerry talked to Turkey/Qatar ABOUT Hamas in Paris," she wrote. "The point I was trying to make: talking to Turkey and Qatar ABOUT Hamas had the Arab League unhappy."
What happened in Paris
While Kerry did not meet with Hamas in Paris on July 26, he did meet with the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar, two of Hamas’ major international backers. After negotiating a short-lived ceasefire, he said that many state actors have helped in the peace talks but singled out the two countries.
"We’re grateful obviously for the Egyptian initiative, for the Israeli efforts initially, but also this particular effort now has been significantly assisted by the input of Qatar, the input of Turkey, and the willingness of these foreign ministers to work hard even though they were at a distance, and to engage directly with some of the Palestinian factions in order to try to help get us where we are today," Kerry said.
Arab League reaction
Experts we spoke with said that even Van Susteren’s modified point -- that the Arab League was unhappy by Kerry’s talks with Turkey and Qatar -- is an oversimplification.
Gelvin noted that Qatar itself is a League member (though Turkey is not), and that desire for peace in the region may outweigh disapproval of Hamas. The League, which is composed of 21 member states, also hasn’t issued any statement as a group condemning or criticizing Kerry’s meeting.
"Most of the Arab League, while not enamored with Hamas, wants a ceasefire simply because their lack of a strong backing for the Palestinians is very unpopular among their people," Gelvin said.
Still, there are tensions between some individual League members and the United States based on Kerry’s recent diplomatic maneuvers.
Steven Cook, a Middle East expert on the Council on Foreign Relations, said Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates all have been critical of Kerry’s reaching out to Qatar and Turkey. Those countries oppose Hamas in the current crisis largely out of a fear that Hamas’ political Islamist movement will spread, experts say.
"The Arab states may not be fond of Israel, but they fear political Islam and Hamas as a more direct threat to their stability than Israel," said George Bisharat, a professor at the Hastings College of Law and a legal expert on the Middle East.
In general, the great majority of the Arab League members are either indifferent to or enemies of Hamas, said Amatzia Baram, professor of Middle East studies at the University of Haifa in Israel. The two exceptions are Qatar and Sudan, a "friend" of Hamas because of shared ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
"It’s very clear that (most of the Arab League) supports Egypt and not Hamas. Of course, Qatar has a lot of money, which Egypt does not, but Egypt is still the most important country in the Arab world," Baram said.
Van Susteren said, "So many people were critical of Secretary (John) Kerry going to Paris and talking with Hamas," because Kerry was seen as "supporting Hamas to the exclusion of the Arab League."
Kerry never spoke directly with Hamas, a factual error that Van Susteren acknowledged. Instead, Kerry spoke with leaders from Turkey and Qatar -- who are seen as intermediaries for Hamas.
As to her point about the meeting upsetting the Arab League, experts say some key members of the League were upset, but not all of them.
We rate her claim False.