The news website BuzzFeed reports that the United States held secret talks with Hamas for the past six months to discuss maintenance of the Palestinian resistance movement’s cease-fire with Israel and the formation of the recently announced Palestinian unity government.
“Our administration needed to hear from them that this unity government would move toward democratic elections, and toward a more peaceful resolution with the entire region,” noted the report, quoting a US official. “It was important to have that line of communication.”
The State Department denies that Washington has broken its self-imposed boycott of talks with Hamas.
“These assertions are completely untrue,” spokeswoman Marie Harf told BuzzFeed. “There is no such back channel. Our position on Hamas has not changed.”
Well-informed sources in the region are skeptical that currently serving US officials have met with official Hamas representatives.
“I doubt it,” explained one top-level security official in Cairo. “This is my personal assessment. Perhaps through the Carter Center, yes, but a direct dialogue, this could not be.”
The United States has never lacked for access to authoritative information about Hamas. Over the last decade, a parade of American interlocutors, including the author, have sought to keep US officials — some more interested than others — appraised of Hamas’ take on events. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself played a leading role in discussions that resulted in a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas after Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, announcing, along with then-Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, the truce between Israel and Hamas in Cairo on Nov. 21, 2012.
Washington’s cautious endorsement earlier this week of the joint effort by Hamas and Fatah to form a government to administer parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip offers the best evidence that Hamas’ ostracism is ending.
Endorsements of the new Palestinian government came from around the world, with Russia, China, India, Turkey, France and the United Kingdom expressing their support. The European Union and the United Nations added their approval for good measure.
The reason for the international embrace of Palestinian reconciliation, in contrast to previous stillborn efforts, is the absence of a US-supported diplomatic alternative. Today, there is no prospect of what US officials used to call a “political horizon” to focus hope for a peace deal. Therefore its corollary — opposition to a deal between Fatah and Hamas — has become passé. The Palestinian effort now commands international attention and support. With or without the United States, this train had already left the station.