JERUSALEM – A recent meeting between Hamas leaders and former U.S. diplomat Thomas Pickering served as an “important step” to open eventual dialogue between the Islamic group and the Obama administration, Hamas’ chief political adviser in Gaza told WND.
“Any meeting between Hamas and an American official or former official can help with opening the door for serious talks between Hamas and the American administration,” Hamas’ top adviser Ahmed Yousef told WND.
“I do believe Obama is serious about a peaceful settlement to the (Israeli-Palestinian) conflict, and he knows you can’t have a peaceful settlement without including Hamas,” Yousef said, speaking from the Gaza Strip.
The Washington Post last week revealed Pickering, a former US ambassador to Israel and the U.N. as well as former secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s deputy in the Clinton Administration, met in Geneva in June with two Hamas leaders – Bassem Naim and Mahmoud al-Zahar. Naim is Hamas’ health minister, while al-Zahar is the chief of Hamas in Gaza.
Neither Al-Zahar nor Naim could not be immediately reached for comment.
The State Department told the Jerusalem Post the meeting between Pickering and Hamas was not sanctioned by the White House and that its official policy regarding the group remained unchanged: Hamas first must recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements as a precondition for dialogue with the U.S.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly stressed Pickering acted as a private citizen. Kelly said he was unaware of any prior U.S. governmental coordination with the former diplomat about the meeting with Hamas.
Carter helping Hamas open talks
While the State Department said recognition of Israel is a precondition for engaging in dialogue with Hamas, top Hamas officials recently told WND that former President Jimmy Carter presented their group with a written initiative intended to open talks between the Islamic terrorist group and the U.S. without Hamas having to recognize Israel.
Carter last month handed Hamas a letter “that aims to open dialogue between Hamas and U.S.,” Mushir al-Masri, a member of Hamas’ parliament and a spokesman for the group, told WND.
Two top Hamas sources told WND Carter’s initiative asks Hamas to recognize the so-called two-state solution as well as the Arab Peace Initiative but doesn’t mention recognition of Israel. The initiative bypasses U.S. conditions.
Those conditions, expressed twice by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are Hamas’ renouncement of violence, recognition of Israel and agreement to abide by previous PLO commitments. The conditions were adopted by the Mideast Quartet, which consists of the U.S., United Nations, Russia and the European Union.
Al-Masri said Hamas was studying Carter’s plan.
“In any response to Carter, we will reject the conditions of the Quartet, specifically the recognition of Israel,” al-Masri said.