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(photo credit: AP [file])
A Palestinian unity government that does not recognize Israel, renounce terrorism or accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements is one the US will not be able to accept, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear during her visit to the region last week.
Senior diplomats said Tuesday that Clinton "reiterated" during her visit that the "Quartet and the Arab League are in agreement" that those three principles are ones that Hamas would have to adopt in order for there to be engagement with Hamas.
The diplomat's comments come amid attempts by some European countries to look for ways to circumvent the international community's three benchmarks that for the most part have kept the world from dealing with the terror group.
Britain, for instance, recently announced that it was going to begin talking with Hizbullah in Lebanon, a move that some observers felt was a gambit to get the Obama administration to begin engaging with Hizbullah and, down the line, with Hamas.
Israeli officials have said recently that while the international community was still in verbal agreement regarding Hamas's need to accept the three basic conditions before becoming a legitimate partner, there is a wide variation between how some in Europe and the US Administration view the seriousness of the matter.
According to these officials, while the US genuinely seems adamant that Hamas must change its stripes before being given any international legitimacy, even as part of a wider Palestinian unity government, the European tone that has emerged in recent talks in Jerusalem with Israeli leaders was a desire to somehow get over the three-criteria issue so that it doesn't pose a threat to the diplomatic process.
In a related development, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview that appeared Wednesday in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that Syria could conduct direct peace negotiations with Israel if the US acted as a mediator.
"We need the United States to act as an arbitrator when we move from the current indirect negotiations to direct negotiations [with Israel]," he was quoted by AFP as telling the Japanese-language newspaper.
Assad's comments came after the visit over last weekend by two US officials: Jeff Feltman, the State Department's Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, and Dan Shapiro, of the National Security Council. This was the highest-level visit by us officials in some four years and the two discussed with the Syrians a long list of bilateral and regional issues.
Israeli diplomatic officials said their sense was that the US at this point was feeling out the Syrians, and seeing whether there was a chance that US engagement could entice the Syrians to change their behavior on a wide range of issues, from supporting Hamas and Hizbullah to remaining in Iran's orbit.
In his interview, Assad warned that progress in talks with Israel would "depend on the next Israeli administration."
Assad welcomed the Obama administration's decision to send Feltman and Shapiro to Syria.
"It is important that we first begin dialogue and both take part in resolving problems," he told the newspaper. "It is not us who have changed. It is the Americans who have changed."
Meanwhile, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz dismissed the significance of a meeting between Likud MK Ayoub Kara and Syrian officials in Washington in January, before the elections.
Steinitz, who is close to Netanyahu, told Israel Radio that the official Kara had met was exiled Syrian opposition leader Farid Ghadry. Steinitz stressed that Ghadry's citizenship had been revoked by Syria, that he was not connected to the Damascus regime and that he headed a reformist camp seeking to topple Assad.
He also noted that Ghadry had been sentenced to death in absentia. The Syrian opposition figure had visited Israel in the past, and had even participated in a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting.
Kara, however, told Israel Radio that Steinitz's statements were inaccurate, and that he had also met with official Syrian government representatives.
Kara made clear that the meetings did not take place with Netanyahu's knowledge, as was originally reported by a Lebanese Web site.