Barack Obama Open for Hamas Talks

The incoming US administration of Barack Obama will be open to talk to the Hamas movement, in a break-up with the Bush administration’s policy of ostracizing the Palestinian resistance group.

"This is going to be an administration that is committed to negotiating with critical parties on critical issues," a source close to Obama’s transition team told the Guardian on Friday, January 9.

The Obama camp has been discussing opening talks with the Palestinian group, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The president-elect was urged by advisers to initiate low-level or clandestine approaches with Hamas, they said.

A tested course would be to start contacts through Hamas and the US intelligence.

"It is highly unlikely that they will be public about it," said one Middle East expert close to Obama’s transition team.

The United States brands Hamas as "terrorist".

Obama, who will be inaugurated on January 20, has been tight-lipped about Israel’s two-week blitz in Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, which killed almost 800 people, including 220 children and 89 women, and injured 3,125 others.

"We will be perceived to be weak and feckless if we are perceived to be on the margins, unable to persuade the Israelis, unable to work with the international community to end this," said Aaron David Miller, a former state department adviser on the Middle East.

"Unless he is prepared to adopt a policy that is tougher, fairer and smarter than both of his predecessors you might as well hang a closed-for-the-season sign on any chance of America playing an effective role in defusing the current crisis or the broader crisis."

Engaging Hamas

The new Obama’s Hamas position is a breakup with the Bush administration’s policy of isolating the Palestinian resistance group.

"I think it is going to happen," said Steve Clemons, the director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation.

"Secret envoys, multilateral six-party talk-like approaches. The total isolation of Hamas that we promulgated under Bush is going to end.

"You could do something through the Europeans. You could invent a structure that is multilateral. It is going to be hard for the neocons to swallow."

The Bush Administration has spearheaded an international campaign to isolate Hamas since it came to power in the 2006 parliamentary polls.

Washington also backed a months-long Israeli siege on Gaza, home to 1.6 Palestinians, since Hamas routed Fatah from the strip last year.

Richard Haass, a veteran diplomat and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said engaging Hamas would bear fruit on building peace in the Middle East.

"If the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continues to hold and a Hamas-PA reconciliation emerges, the Obama administration should deal with the joint Palestinian leadership and authorize low-level contact between US officials and Hamas in Gaza," he says in an article written with former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and an adviser to incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
( and Agencies)

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