Israel reserving judgment on Hamas-Fatah reconciliation bid

Mitchell scheduled to arrive for second visit to region later this week.

Mitchell smiles 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mitchell smiles 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward apparent US support for a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and national unity government, saying it would be much too premature to take a stand before seeing if the talks lead anywhere. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who is scheduled to arrive Thursday for his second visit to the region since being appointed to the post by President Barack Obama, indicated last week that the US supported Egyptian efforts at a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. This position, confirmed by PA officials, represents a break from the Bush administration policy, which opposed Hamas's inclusion in a PA government. Egypt has invited representatives of Hamas, Fatah and several other Palestinian groups to unity talks due to begin in Cairo on Wednesday. One senior Israeli diplomatic official said Israel's position on reconciliation would be dependent on the terms. "What are the conditions?" the official asked. "Does reconciliation mean that Hamas will accept the Annapolis process and the international community's three preconditions for legitimacy or does it mean Hamas will influence Fatah? Does it mean that Fatah will get back control of Gaza or that Hamas will win a foothold in the West Bank?" After Hamas won the PA elections in 2006, Israel, the US, the EU and a number of other countries decided to have no contact with the Hamas government or the organization's representatives until Hamas recognized Israel, rejected terrorism and accepted previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The official said Israel was not concerned that the US would now initiate direct talks with Hamas and that what was more realistic at this time was to expect the US to say publicly that it would be willing to bring Hamas into the diplomatic process if it accepted the three conditions. The official said it was quite possible the US would say that as part of the new administration's policy of "reaching out to everyone," the US would call on the Hamas to accept the three conditions and to join the PA. Israel would have no objection to that type of appeal, the official said. The official said that both the US and the Europeans were looking for a way out of the current diplomatic impasse, believing that one way forward would be to fold Hamas back into the PA so diplomatic talks could be resumed with one central address. Israel's position would be a function of the conditions of reconciliation, the official said, adding that Jerusalem's message to the US and Europe was that they should also wait and see what emerged before embracing Palestinian national unity. "If Fatah capitulates to Hamas, then what have we gained?" the official asked.