Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - In an apparent about-face that has angered lawmakers in Israel, the international community Wednesday opened its arms to a Hamas-dominated Palestinian unity government that will not recognize Israel or renounce the use of terrorism.
The self-styled Middle East Quartet -- comprised of the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia -- issued a statement endorsing Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's efforts "to form a government of national unity" with the ruling Hamas organization.
Hamas, however, remains committed to the destruction of the Jewish state and the use of terrorist violence to achieve that goal.
The Quartet's previous demand that Hamas abandon its hardline positions was downgraded in Wednesday's statement to the mere "hope that the platform of such a government would reflect Quartet principles and allow for early engagement."
Knesset Member Yuval Steinitz of the opposition Likud Party slammed the decision, noting in remarks carried by Ynet that "the world is embracing a terrorist government that calls for the annihilation of Israel."
Former foreign minister and senior Likud lawmaker Silvan Shalom called the Quartet statement a "diplomatic avalanche," and criticized the group for altering its position without first consulting Israel.
Israeli officials said they were surprised that Washington had gone along with the decision of its Quartet partners, which marked a significant softening of its position.
The Bush administration had originally played a leading role in demanding change from Hamas and imposing an economic embargo on the defiant terror group.
U.N. and E.U. diplomatic officials told Reuters that Wednesday's statement marked a victory for their more accommodating positions.
That caused many in Israel to cast a worrying look back at comments made last week by senior U.S. State Department advisor Phillip Zelikow in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
In that address, Zelikow noted that Washington was trying to build a coalition to advance its agenda in the Middle East, but that its allies in Europe and the Arab world saw progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as an essential precondition to backing any American efforts, especially sanctions against Iran.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday denied that the administration was linking the two issues, but many in Israel remain skeptical.
It is widely believed that the U.S. adopted the "Road Map" Middle East peace plan and pressed Israel to accept it as the price for securing Britain's participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The Road Map represented a departure from President George W. Bush's 2002 Middle East policy address, in which he insisted a Palestinian state would never be established until the Palestinian Authority fulfilled its previous commitments, including putting a complete halt to terrorist violence against Israel.
Meanwhile, Hamas officials Thursday expressed satisfaction with the turn of events, noting that the Quartet statement had opened the door for the resumption of international financial aid to the Palestinians.
The Quartet likewise called on Israel to release about $500 million in Palestinian tax revenues it has been withholding since Hamas took power.
Confident that the funds would reach Hamas despite safeguards, spokesman Ahmed Youssef told Reuters he would like to thank the Quartet for its "political flexibility and understanding."
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