PARIS - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday refused to rule out further negotiations with a Palestinian government that included Hamas, even as she stressed that the U.S. remains adamant that Hamas renounce terror and violence and recognize Israel's right to exist as a prerequisite.
Asked directly if the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement closed the door on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations for the foreseeable future, Clinton hedged.
"We are going to be carefully assessing what this actually means, because there are a number of different potential meanings to it, both on paper and in practice," she said at a press conference in Rome on the sidelines of a meeting on Libya.
Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, echoed Clinton's caution at the same press conference. Hamas, he said, had to abide by the conditions outlined by the Quartet if it wanted to be considered "a possible interlocutor." But he did not rule negotiations out.
Coming just as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was traveling between two other European capitals - Paris and London - in an effort to convince their leaders to reject the Hamas-Fatah deal outright and shun a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence in September, Clinton's words, as well as those of Frattini, can be seen as something of a blow to his mission.
Walking out of a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy last night, a seemingly sobered Netanyahu faced the media on his own. He dodged requests for details of the French leader's positions on the Fatah-Hamas deal and unilateral Palestinian statehood - which Paris is increasingly inclined to consider positively - and instead focused on the basics the two seem to have agreed upon. Their conversation, he said, was "far-reaching and friendly."
"I heard clear things from President Sarkozy, which is that anyone who wants to have peace with Israel has to announce clearly that they are ready for peace and not terror," Netanyahu said. "This was a clear statement and an important one. I heard similar things in my meeting with Prime Minister [David] Cameron yesterday."
Sources familiar with the content of the Wednesday-night meeting between Netanyahu and Cameron confirm that the British prime minister indeed pledged his commitment to Israel's security and made it clear his country was committed to the Quartet's demand that Hamas renounce terror, recognize Israel and abide by past agreements with Israel. But he did not promise to reject the Fatah-Hamas unity deal outright, as Netanyahu would have liked.
"I don't want to talk about the details of the talks," Netanyahu said yesterday. "But the main principle is that whoever wants peace with Israel has to accept Israel as the national state of the Jews. That is the most simple and true thing."
Israel, Netanyahu continued, could consider being supportive of a Palestinian state "even before September" - but only under the right conditions. "The expectation we have, and any fair-minded person would have, is that we ask of anyone who says they want peace with Israel to abandon the goal of destroying Israel. We can make peace with an enemy, but only an enemy who wants peace," Netanyahu stressed again and again.
He also addressed the possibility that the UN could nonetheless recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.
"Sure there are automatic majorities in the UN. They could say the world is flat and pass it, if they wanted," he said. "But the leading countries, like the U.S., and now Britain and France, all say they expect those who want peace with Israel to recognize Israel. This is elementary."
"The idea is not to establish a Palestinian state to continue the conflict as Hamas wants, but to establish a state so as to end the conflict," he continued. "What they want now is to form a state so as to continue trying to destroy us."
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