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Quick Takes: News From Israel You May Have Missed

For months Hamas has been in direct contact with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Mideast envoy for the international Quartet, according to a top Hamas official speaking to this column.

“Yes, we have been talking with Blair for at least five months,” said Ahmed Yousef, Hamas’s chief political adviser in the Gaza Strip. In comments published this week, Blair said Hamas should be part of the Mideast peace process. The comments were seen by some as a departure from his previous policy.

Palestinians Optimistic About Obama

The Palestinian Authority received a guarantee from President Obama’s administration that understandings reached with Israel during U.S.-backed negotiations while President Bush was in office will be utilized as starting points for current and future talks with the Jewish state, top PA officials told WorldNetDaily.

The PA officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were enthusiastic about the White House’s new tone and about recent meetings with Obama’s Mideast envoy, former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell. They believe that under Obama the Palestinians can extract concessions from Israel reaching “much further” than concessions made during talks under the Bush administration.

“Regarding all understandings achieved between the parties, the Obama administration told us they will give guarantees to carry them out,” said a top PA official.

“With Obama, the number of settlers to be removed from the West Bank will be much more important than 60,000,” said the PA official, referring to previous negotiations in which Israel expressed a willingness to withdraw from up to 94 percent of the West Bank and move about 60,000 settlers into central settlement blocs closer to Jerusalem.

This column reported in November that then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice collected notes and documents from Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams to ensure the incoming U.S. administration would not need to start negotiations from scratch. PA sources said Rice’s notes are being used by Obama’s team as the starting point for new Israeli-Palestinian talks.

With new general Israeli elections scheduled for next week, the move could limit the incoming Israeli prime minister, since the PA can point to points of agreement during talks between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

New PLO-Like Organization In The Works

Hamas may have agreed to a cease-fire but Fatah apparently isn’t impressed. The so-called military wing of the U.S.-backed Fatah party, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, took responsibility for a barrage of rockets and mortars fired from the Gaza Strip on Monday. Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades called this reporter and also released an official pamphlet, taking credit for firing at least five rockets and four mortars, which lightly wounded two Israeli soldiers and one civilian.

Meanwhile, the chief of Hamas has advocated creating a new umbrella body to represent all Palestinians and to compete with the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, headed by Abbas.

In December, sources in Hamas told this column that the terror group would propose creating a new PLO-like organization as part of a larger campaign to delegitimize Abbas. Now, over the weekend, Hamas chieftain Khaled Meshaal has done just that, pushing for the creation of a new PLO-like group.

Hamas officials said the new group would be a grand coalition of major Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in Lebanon. The coalition would even include part of the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which until now has leaned toward Fatah.

According to sources in Hamas, some members of Fatah, including Faruq Al-Khadumi, chief of the political bureau of the PLO, assisted in a recent meeting at which Hamas presented the possibility of creating a new PLO.

The move could have enormous consequences, since the PLO – as the main representative body of the Palestinians – is the signatory of all peace agreements with Israel. Any new group purporting to represent all Palestinians could declare past agreements null and void.

Aaron Klein is Jerusalem bureau chief for WorldNetDaily.com. He appears throughout the week on leading U.S. radio programs and is the author of the book “Schmoozing with Terrorists.”

About the Author: Aaron Klein is a New York Times bestselling author and senior reporter for WND.com. He is also host of an investigative radio program on New York's 970 AM Radio on Sundays from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern. His website is KleinOnline.com.


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