Ehud Olmert doesn't rule out possibility of peace conversation, despite Hamas' election victory

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday he was not ruling out the possibility that Israel would hold peace talks with the Palestinians, despite Hamas' overwhelming victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

The electoral success of Hamas, which calls for Israel 's destruction, effectively ended any chance of renewing long-stalled peace negotiations. Israel has called on the international community to join it in isolating the Palestinian government following the inauguration of the Hamas-controlled parliament Saturday.

Hamas leaders, who will form the next Cabinet, worked Tuesday to try to persuade other Palestinian parties to join it in a broad-based coalition government.

Olmert told Israel TV that the chances of reaching a "quick agreement" with the Palestinians were smaller now that Hamas was in charge.

"But the hope has not disappeared, and I am responsible for both things, the battle against Hamas and maintaining hope, the chance to reach an agreement," Olmert said.

The United States and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization. After Hamas took over parliament, Israel froze the transfer of roughly US$50 million (42 million euros) in tax funds to the Palestinian Authority, and Western nations threatened to halt hundreds of millions of dollars of vital foreign aid once a Hamas Cabinet takes office.

Israel and the Western nations have demanded Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel 's right to exist. Hamas leaders have resisted calls to moderate and said they would make up for the lost funds with new donations from Arab and Muslim nations.

That plan, however, hit a serious setback when Arab League foreign ministers failed to agree on new aid for the Palestinians. "The aid is destined for the Palestinian people and not for Hamas," Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said in an appeal for donations during a meeting in Algeria that ended late Monday.

Trying to drum up support for the coming government, Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal visited Iran , whose leaders called on Muslim nations around the world to make up the Palestinians' budget shortfall.

"Since the divine treasures are infinite, you should not be concerned about economic issues," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as telling Mashaal on Monday. "If you work for God, he will provide for you."

In an apparent attempt to defuse international fears that the Palestinians will be led by what Israel calls a "terrorist authority," Hamas has nominated a pragmatic leader, Ismail Haniyeh, to fill the post of prime minister.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to meet Haniyeh later Tuesday to officially appoint him prime minister and ask him to put together the new government, a task Haniyeh will have five weeks to fulfill.

Hamas has been holding talks with various Palestinian groups including Abbas' Fatah Party on joining a coalition.

Israel 's former army chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, said that to effectively fight a Hamas-led government, Israel and the international community must maintain a united bloc.

"We need to stop interpreting every smile of a Hamas leader as a sign of moderation and willingness to compromise." Yaalon said in comments broadcast on Israel Radio.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army removed a small unauthorized West Bank settlement outpost near Jerusalem on Tuesday, military officials said. Soldiers met no violent resistance when they dismantled Givat Haor, which consisted of a tent inhabited by three people.

Earlier this month, some 200 people were injured when Israeli forces clashed with settlers during the evacuation of part of the Amona outpost. Under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, Israel has pledged to removing about two dozen unauthorized West Bank outposts, but has yet to fulfill its commitment, reports the AP.


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