ANALYSIS: Talking to Hamas without talking to Hamas

Mideast players differ on approach to Hamas

During a trip to the Middle East this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice served as an informal go-between for Hamas and its sworn enemy, the government of Israel, helping to arrange a tentative truce, according to U.S., Israeli and Arab officials.

The United States has long considered Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that seized the Gaza Strip last year, to be a terrorist group, and the Bush administration remains firmly opposed to direct talks until Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel. President Bush has decried Hamas’s “devotion to terrorism and murder” and said there cannot be peace until the group is dismantled.

Throughout her trip, Rice never publicly uttered the term “cease-fire.” But at the request of Egypt, Rice privately asked Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to issue a public statement that Israel would halt attacks if Hamas stopped firing crude rockets at Israeli towns and cities. One day later, Egyptian officials could point to the statement in talks with Hamas, and the daily barrage suddenly stopped.

Rice’s actions underscore the nuanced series of signals that are typical of Middle East diplomacy, but they also highlight the central role today of Hamas, formally called the Islamic Resistance Movement, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now some experts — and even Israelis — are questioning whether the isolation of Hamas continues to make sense. [complete article]

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