Foreign Ministry Wants to Talk to PA, but Bypass Hamas

The Foreign Ministry is looking for ways to hold talks with the Palestinian Authority that would "detour" Hamas.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, concerned over the diplomatic impasse with the Palestinians, instructed ministry officials to come up with ways for a dialogue without involving the Hamas cabinet. Among the ideas is whether the road map has to continue as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; considering a Palestinian proposal to conduct talks whose outcome would be presented as a referendum to the Palestinian public or as the Fatah party platform in new elections; and formulating the goals of the talks -- a final arrangement, principles of a final arrangement, or a series of moves to allow an exit from the present impasse.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met last Tuesday with Livni to discuss these ideas. Meanwhile, his bureau chief, Yoram Turbovich, is leading a policy team, which includes representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the security establishment, and the intelligence community.

Turbovich will leave tomorrow for Washington to hold preparatory talks with the administration ahead of Olmert's meeting with President George Bush on November 13.

The talks will be focused on ways to strengthen PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the forces loyal to him ahead of a possible conflict with Hamas.

Last week Olmert got a green light from the political-security cabinet to undertake steps to shore up Abbas as per a plan formulated by U.S. security coordinator General Keith Dayton. Details of the plan were not mentioned, and Olmert's bureau continues to deny reports that he approved a request to allow the Badr Brigade, a wing of the Palestine Liberation Army currently stationed in Jordan, to relocate to the territories.

During her last visit to the region, Abbas asked Condoleezza Rice to ask Israel to transfer the brigade to Gaza. The request is reportedly under consideration, along with a request to allow the transfer of 2,000 guns from Egypt to Abbas' troops in Gaza.

Yediot Ahronoth reported that Olmert agreed to the request to relocate the brigade as long as the soldiers came without their families, would leave when Israel asked, and Jordanian King Abdullah agreed.

A government source said Olmert was likely to agree to the brigade's transfer and the weapons to satisfy the U.S.