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Israel's chief foreign policy goal in 2009 will be to sustain the isolation of Hamas in the international arena in order to make room for a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel's most senior diplomat said on Monday at a panel of the Herzliya Conference.
If the international community engaged and legitimized Hamas, "this would ruin Israel's ability to conduct wide-ranging, comprehensive negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and [PA President] Abu Mazen," Foreign Ministry Dir.-Gen. Aharon Abramovich said in a panel on "The International Political Dimension of Israel's National Resilience."
According to Abramovich, Israel will face enormous international pressure to renew peace discussions with the Palestinians once a new government is formed after the February 10 elections.
"It is in Israel's interest to renew negotiations with the PA," and not with Hamas, he said.
Abramovich's comments come following serious concern in Israel that the international community is considering easing its demands on Hamas before it engages with the organization.
In recent years, the Quartet of the EU, UN, Russia and the US have demanded as a precondition for speaking to Hamas that the organization forswear violence, accept previous agreements between Israel and the PA and recognize Israel.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last week, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would not say unequivocally that the EU should stick with the three preconditions for engaging the group.
Asked his opinion, Solana said "we want to move in a political dynamic, [which] is impossible to have outside two basic parameters," which are a two-state solution and the Arab peace initiative.
According to some recent European diplomatic voices, including France, Hamas acceptance of the Arab peace initiative, which calls for a two-state solution, can be considered as tantamount to recognition of Israel.
But European efforts to engage Hamas without the Quartet preconditions may be self-defeating, according to Dr. Oded Eran, director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University and former Israeli ambassador to the EU and NATO.
"If the international community drops the Quartet preconditions so it can talk with Hamas, it will very quickly discover that it doesn't have a whole lot to talk about with Hamas," Eran told the Post on Monday.
"The Arab peace initiative itself doesn't meet the minimal demands of Hamas, so where can these talks possibly go?"
In any case, "Israeli diplomacy can't stop Europeans from speaking to Hamas," Eran said emphatically.
"And you know what? We shouldn't worry about it too much. Gaza is now 'Hamastan,' whether we like it or not. Israel has to stop relating to it according to its ideology, and relate to it according to its behavior. If they stop terror from Gaza, we'll have quiet. If not, Israel will respond accordingly."