Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It looks like Rice really did praise Hamas

In a story that I've been following for nearly two weeks, it appears that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice may have really sent a message to Hamas that praised them for their actions. From Al Jazeera:

The US state department has denied that Condoleezza Rice, the country's secretary of state, sent a message to Hamas' senior political adviser praising the Palestinian movement for its halt in firing rockets into Israel.

The so-called "verbal communication" between the US and Khaled Meshaal is said to have been received this month through mediators visiting the Gaza Strip.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas spokesman, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the message also stated US support for the inter-Palestinian dialogue mediated by Egypt.

Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh, reporting from Ramallah, said Hamas is not denying that communications with the US have taken place.

However, the organisation has said that they have not received anything official from the US, she said.

"I would like to inform you that your maintenance of the ceasefire is an absolute Palestinian interest and will be for the benefit of the people of Gaza and of course Hamas, which seized control of the strip," Rice was quoted by Ma'an, a Palestinian news agency, as saying.

"I would also like to commend the measures you have taken to protect the borders with Israel and prevent extremist terrorists from launching rockets at the south of the Jewish state," the message continued.

"I feel it is important for Hamas to be ready to renounce terrorism and to seriously consider living peacefully in two states, side by side in peace and security, allowing both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to live in peace and prosperity.

"I hope this can be the beginning of greater communication with Hamas, after your assimilation into the negotiation process and acceptance of the Quartet committee's demands."

Abu Marzouk said that Hamas considers the message a "recognition" of its existence, although the US still labels Hamas as a "terrorist" organisation.

Ahmed Youssef, a senior political adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, the deposed Palestinian prime minister and a key Hamas member, told the Al Ahram newspaper that the message does not herald a massive change in the current relationship between Hamas and the US.

"It certainly reflects the US administration's sense that the justifications upon which it has long grounded its antagonism towards Hamas and the Palestinian resistance are crumbling," he said.

According to Al Ahram, a source in the Haniyeh government said that communications have been taking place for more than a year between his government and the office of Tony Blair, the Quartet's Midde East envoy.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, the former Palestinian foreign minister from Hamas, confirmed that Hamas had received a message from Rice.

But "this cannot be regarded as a turning point in relations between the US administration and Hamas", he said.

Odeh said these messages are not new.

"Previous US administrations have constantly tried to nudge isolated political parties into mainstream politics," she said.

"It also indicates that the US government cannot deny the influence of Hamas in the region."

The US denials do not ring true - calling it "unofficial" gives plausible deniability - and the contents sound like State Department-speak to make this sound legit.