Former U.S. President Clinton supports dialogue with Hamas

By News Agencies

Haaretz

Nisan 4, 5766

In a weekend interview with BBC television, former U.S. President Bill Clinton called for a dialogue with the Hamas-led Palestinian government if several conditions are met, in particular a halt to violence.

Clinton noted that the late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat signed agreements with Israel that honor the two-state principle.

"He had made private assurances, and he made public assurances, that he did not support terror any more and would try to restrain it. So if Hamas would say, suppose they say, 'OK, look, we can't change our theory, we can't change our document, we can't change our history, but we're in government now and the policy of the Palestinian government is no to terror and yes to negotiations. As long as we're in government, we'll honor that policy.' If they did that, I would support dealing with them," Clinton said.

Clinton's comments on Hamas followed critical remarks about the Bush administration's foreign policy in general and its policy in Iraq and the territories in particular.

U.S. bars dealings with Hamas government
The United States on Friday announced a new policy on contacts with Palestinians that bars dealings with officials of Palestinian government agencies that are controlled by Hamas.

U.S. contacts with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his staff will continue.

The Bush administration had made clear in advance that it would have no dealings with Hamas cabinet ministers because of the organization's refusal to accept Israel's right to exist and embrace international terms for Middle East peace-making.

"We've advised our mission in Jerusalem, as well as other missions around the world that ... there should be no contact between U.S. government officials and PA officials who are under the authority of the prime minister or any other minister in the Hamas-led government. This includes working-level officials in those ministries," deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters on Friday.

"If they're working in a Hamas-led ministry, no matter what their affiliation is, we're not going to have contact with them," Ereli said.

The Palestinian cabinet headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and endorsed by the Palestinian legislature Tuesday is made up entirely of Hamas members and independents allied to the militant Islamic organization.

While that rules out U.S. contact with the Haniyeh government, Ereli said American diplomats may still deal with Abbas, his staff, and officials in agencies directly under his authority, including the PA's representative in Washington, Afief Safieh, because "he does not report to the foreign ministry," Ereli said.

"We will work with individuals and organizations who are not affiliated with Hamas," he said. "There are a lot of people we can speak to now," Ereli said.

Quartet envoys to meet in Amman to discuss PA aid
The new policy was announced as two senior U.S. envoys continued contacts in the region on the situation following the seating of the Palestinian cabinet and Tuesday's Israeli elections.

White House Middle East policy chief Elliott Abrams and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch have held talks with, among others, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Palestinian cabinet member Saeb Erekat.

The two envoys are to attend an expert-level meeting in Amman on Sunday of the international Middle East Quartet, which also includes Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

The Quartet issued a statement Thursday noting "with grave concern" that Hamas had not heeded its appeal of last January 30 to commit to principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous Palestinian agreements and obligations including the Quartet's 2003 peace road map.

Ereli said the meeting in the Jordanian capital would examine ways the Quartet can continue efforts toward a two-state settlement of the conflict given the "new reality" on the ground.

He also said they would discuss how to continue humanitarian aid to the Palestinians while by-passing Hamas-controlled ministries.

The Bush administration says the assumption of power by Hamas, a group listed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, means the end of direct U.S. support for the PA.

But it says it intends to increase humanitarian aid, which has traditionally been channeled through the UN and non-governmental groups.