Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni left for Washington early Wednesday morning carrying the message that Israel would negotiate with a new Palestinian Authority government if it accepts the international community's three benchmarks for legitimacy.
But she also left not knowing whether a new PA government would renounce terrorism, recognize Israel and accept previous agreements.
State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos also said Monday that the PA must accept these three principles before it could gain American recognition.
Senior diplomatic officials said on Tuesday that Livni's talks would focus on how to deal with the possible formation of a PA national unity government and determine "who wants what" in Washington.
They said that Israel is in the process of formulating its policy on how to deal with the new government and this would depend to a large extent on that government's platform. Right now, one official said, very little was clear, with some Hamas spokesmen saying the group had agreed to certain principles, but no clarity on exactly what had been agreed upon.
Among the issues that Jerusalem will have to decide is whether to resume the transfer of tax revenues to the PA and whether it would talk to Hamas ministers in the new government. What Israel decides on this matter will go a long way toward determining how the US and Europe act as well.
There was currently no document, so Israel can't formulate a policy without knowing what was being discussed, a senior Foreign Ministry official said. He said that in addition to coming up with a policy regarding a new PA government, Israel was also in need of a new policy toward the Palestinians now that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's realignment plan had been shelved.
According to Foreign Ministry officials, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is in a hurry to dissolve the current government to get a meeting with US President George W. Bush in Washington. Abbas is going to the US on Thursday, and it is still not clear whether he will meet with Bush.
Abbas is expected to go from Washington to New York for the annual UN General Assembly meeting, and Israeli officials believe a new PA government would pave the way to a warmer reception.
Livni and Abbas are expected to be in Washington at the same time, but sources in Livni's office said they did not know of any attempts to arrange a meeting between them.
Livni will be in the US capital until Friday, and is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
She is also slated to meet congressional leaders, including presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, and Jewish legislators. She will address the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a leadership delegation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Livni is scheduled to leave Washington on Friday for New York, where she will take part in the UN General Assembly meetings, holding bilateral talks there with nearly two dozen foreign leaders. She is slated to return to Israel in time for Rosh Hashana, and then go back to the UN the day after the holiday to address the General Assembly and participate in a discussion on the Middle East in the Security Council.
Foreign Ministry officials said that it did not look like the Arab leaders would "get it together" and, as they had hoped, bring the UN a new peace proposal dubbed Beirut Plus, a reference to the Arab League initiative adopted in Beirut in 2002.
According to assessments in Jerusalem, talks of the launch of a new Arab initiative or of the convening of an international peace conference were merely attempts by Arab leaders to show their people that they were trying to do something for the Palestinians.
Nathan Guttman in Washington contributed to this report.