Possible Obama envoy backs Hamas outreach


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A foreign policy expert touted as President-elect Barack Obama’s Middle East peace envoy advocates low-level outreach to Hamas under cease-fire conditions.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, outlines options for Obama in an article published Wednesday on the Web site of Foreign Affairs, the council’s magazine, but apparently written before the current Gaza Strip war.

"If the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas continues to hold and a Hamas-P.A. reconciliation emerges, the Obama administration should deal with the joint Palestinian leadership and authorize low-level contact between U.S. officials and Hamas in Gaza," he writes in the article co-written by Martin Indyk, a Clinton administration peace envoy.

That’s a sharp reversal of Bush administration policy. For the short period in 2006 Hamas was allied with the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority leadership, U.S. officials tended to abjure meetings even with P.A. moderates. U.S. policy has been to have nothing to do with Hamas until it recognizes Israel and forswears terrorism.

"If the cease-fire breaks down irreparably and the Israeli army re-enters Gaza, the United States should then work with others to create and insert an Arab-led international force to restore P.A. control and bring about Israel’s withdrawal," the authors write.

Hamas ended the cease-fire in the days before it lapsed on Dec. 19. Israel launched major air operations eight days later and a ground operation on Jan. 3.

Numerous media outlets have said Obama is considering Haass, a veteran of senior policy positions in both Bush administrations, as a Middle East peace envoy.

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