WASHINGTON (JTA) — A former senior U.S. diplomat met with two senior officials of Hamas.
Thomas Pickering, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met with Bassem Naim and Mahmoud al-Zahar in Switzerland last month, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Also Thursday, four members of the fervently Orthodox group Neturei Karta met with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza. The Neturei Karta does not recognize the State of Israel.
As to the meeting between Hamas and Pickering, who also served as undersecretary of state for political affairs, U.S. officials said Pickering had no official standing and that he had scheduled it on his own. The officials told the Post they learned of the meeting after it happened.
The meeting occurred after President Obama’s June 4 Cairo speech but before a June 25 speech by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in which he praised the president’s "new language" toward the group.
Naim told the Post he hoped the meeting would be "the beginning of addressing some of the mistakes of the last three years. This was a first meeting to investigate the positions in general terms of both parties without any commitment on any side."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated Wednesday that Hamas must "recognize Israel and renounce violence and agree to abide by prior agreements" before the United States will deal with the group.
The Neturei Karta group arrived in Gaza through its border with Egypt along with a convoy of aid and international activists. Haniyeh called the Jewish activists "heroes," telling the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, "Those religious figures that express their objection to the siege, the aggression and the crimes — we can’t help but respect them and for their beliefs and their culture."