Voices are being raised in the Quartet (the US, EU, Russia and the UN) arguing that the cutoff date by which Hamas must accept certain preconditions or face international isolation is "malleable" and not necessarily the day a Hamas government is formed, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
One Western diplomatic official said that among the questions the Quartet principals were dealing with now was what would happen if Hamas were to make some move toward recognizing Israel and continue to abide by a cease-fire, but would not go all the way toward full-throated recognition of Israel or committing itself to nonviolence.
"We struck a hard, tough position, placed a very high bar," the official said.
On January 30, the Quartet issued a statement saying that "all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map."
"What now requires a lot of fine-tuning is what if they start moving in that direction, while perhaps falling short of the principles. What do we do then? Do we bring down the guillotine anyway," he said.
He also said that the Quartet never precisely defined what recognition of Israel or a commitment to nonviolence actually meant.
Up until now Israel's understanding of the Quartet's position was that if Hamas did not recognize Israel, disarm and disavow terror, and accept previous agreements with Israel, the international community's relationship with the Palestinian Authority would change when a new Hamas government was sworn in.
Now, however, there are those in the Quartet arguing that the Hamas government will need more time - once it is sworn in - to clarify its positions.
"The outcome of the diplomatic activity that is under way is not predetermined, and there are question marks - questions that will likely remain unanswered for a fair period of time," the official said.
He said that Hamas had little inkling of what it meant to take on the responsibility of government, such as having to pay salaries to 135,000 workers. He also said Hamas was currently working on two tracks: trying to get Fatah into the government and touring various capitals to gauge support and measure their maneuverability room.
"These are both learning processes for them," he said. "It is a reality check. Coming out of the shell and getting exposure abroad is almost always very beneficial, because one starts understanding what is possible."
He said that the Quartet statement of January 30 did not say that the international community's relationship with the PA would change once a Hamas-led government was formed. Rather, the statement read: "It was inevitable that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map."
But, he said, it would take some time once the government was set up for its positions to come clearly to light. In other words, Israel was likely to be disappointed if, as it has said publicly, it expected the world to cut off financial ties with the PA immediately after a new government was sworn in.
"This is a soft plastic moment, not predetermined," he said. "One of the facts that will determine where Hamas goes will be how the international community behaves toward it."
He said that if the international community's premise regarding Hamas was that it is a terrorist organization that has now turned the PA into a terrorist entity, then it is "a lost cause."
But, he said, if you look at Hamas's record and see that despite the "repulsive covenant" and a record of terror "as long as your arm," it still pretty much respected the cease-fire over the last year, took part in the PA elections and had recently tried to hide its covenant, then it has "thrown its hat into the framework" of the Oslo Accords and implicitly accepted them.
"The reason they stopped shooting about a year ago was not because of a sudden pang of conscience," the official said, "but because they saw in their polls that the people did not want Israelis to be shot at, for the understandable reason that the retributions were pretty tough."
He said that the Quartet interpreted Hamas's election victory as having nothing to do with the group's ideology. "We have decided that they voted for change, but that this vote in no way nullifies the desire, as articulated by [PA Chairman] Mahmoud Abbas, for a two-state solution, not because they love it, but because it is the only way to go. This has been corroborated in poll after poll."
He said that if the international community played its cards right, it "could bring them the whole way back" and get Hamas to accept the Oslo parameters - be prepared to negotiate peacefully with Israel and recognize the right of Israel to exist in peace and security.
"If, on the other hand, we act as if it were a lost cause, then are we not pushing them into the other direction," he asked.