Western countries currently in the process of "learning about Hamas
" are holding indirect contacts with the organization through various Palestinian academics and politicians who are close to the organization, but not themselves members, a source who advises various European governments on Palestinian affairs told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the source, these contacts were designed to "feel out" Hamas on various issues, and see to what degree it would be willing to moderate its positions once both a new Palestinian Authority
and a new Israeli government were in place.
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The source said that a number of western governments were currently in the process of trying to gather more information about the organization - its positions, divisions
, central players, possible room for maneuver, and where it might be willing to compromise.
The source noted there was a growing realization among western governments that Hamas is not a monolithic movement, and that there was now an attempt to understand the various nuances inside the organization.
A Hamas government, the source said, is unlikely to be sworn in before the March 28 Israeli elections, in no small part so that this would not turn into an Israeli election issue that could possibly benefit the "Israeli extreme right."
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said that they did not know of any indirect contacts between European governments and Hamas.
One ministry official said that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni heard a united view last week during her visit to Vienna, Paris and London that the Europeans would not continue to fund the PA after Hamas formed a government unless it recognized Israel, disavowed violence, and accepted previous agreements between Israel and the PA.
The European Union's head of external relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said as much in an interview published Monday in Austria's Der Standard
During the interview, however, she also said that Israel should release the $60 million in tax and customs revenues it has begun holding up to the PA. Israel's policy of not transferring the payments to the PA because of the Hamas victory began this month.
"It would be important that the Israelis are paying out what is actually Palestinian money - the customs duties," she said.
The EU's position on whether it believes Israel should transfer these funds once the Hamas government is in power is as yet not clear.
Livni, meanwhile, told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday during her first appearance before that body that it was in Israel's interest to prevent a humanitarian crisis from erupting in the PA. As a result, she said, Israel may seek to deliver aid to the Palestinian population through humanitarian organizations.
Briefing the committee on her recent rip to Europe, Livni said that individual European countries were still considering how to respond to Hamas' victory.
Following the committee meeting, MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union- National Religious Party) said that Livni's briefing proved that "Israel has no clear foreign policy regarding the Palestinians and Hamas."
Sheera Claire Frenkel added to this report