Peres Meeting Ends Ban on Abbas

From the Associated Press

Elder statesman Shimon Peres secretly met the Palestinian Authority president in Jordan with the blessing of acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, ending a ban that followed the victory by the militant group Hamas in Palestinian elections, Israel said Monday.

Olmert's office said the meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dealt only with economic matters. However, Israel TV's Channel 2 said other issues were discussed. The Jordanian government confirmed that the meeting took place but had no details. Palestinian officials had no comment.

Olmert said after the Hamas victory that he had no intention of meeting with Abbas. However, Olmert also has distanced himself from statements by his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, that the moderate Abbas had become irrelevant.

Peres, a key Olmert ally in the new Kadima Party, reestablished Israeli contact with Abbas two weeks before Israeli elections. Kadima holds a wide lead, but Olmert has taken steps to stem a small but steady drop in support.

The Peres-Abbas meeting apparently was meant to attract the support of moderate voters. Peres is a former leader of the dovish Labor Party and an architect of interim peace deals with the Palestinians. He and other doves have insisted that Israel must maintain contact with Abbas, head of the Fatah Party that was defeated by Hamas in the parliamentary elections.

Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005 and has three years left to serve, regardless of the makeup of the parliament or Cabinet.

Abbas has said he might retain control of contacts with Israel while Hamas handles internal issues. However, Israel and Abbas have not fared well in the past. Israel has charged that Abbas did not crack down on violent groups as required by the internationally backed "road map" peace plan.

Abbas has complained that the Israelis were taking no steps to boost his regime, instead adding obstacles like West Bank settlement construction.

In Gaza, Hamas negotiators met through the day with leaders of other Palestinian factions. Hamas has until the end of the month to form a government.

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