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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former prime minister and current Kadima Knesset candidate Shimon Peres met Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Amman Sunday after securing Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's approval.
The meeting came just four days after Olmert said he would not meet with Abbas after a Hamas government was formed.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last week, Olmert questioned the need to meet Abbas. "The PA is one authority. The minute the dominant force in the PA is Hamas, then why [meet]?" he asked.
"There can only be a reason for a meeting if it serves a political purpose. If the government is a Hamas one, what political purpose can it serve?"
Sources close to Olmert said he agreed to the Peres-Abbas meeting on the condition that it would deal strictly with economic issues. A request by Peres to meet with Abbas shortly after the Hamas election in January was turned down by Olmert.
The officials said that Peres met with Abbas in a "private capacity," and not as Olmert's messenger or a representative of either Kadima or the government.
A spokesman for Peres would neither confirm nor deny that the Abbas-Peres meeting took place, saying that his policy was not to discuss Peres's meetings with Palestinian officials.
One diplomatic official said that the meeting concentrated on efforts to establish an emergency humanitarian relief fund to bypass a Hamas-led PA government and still channel money to the Palestinians. The official said that diplomatic issues were not discussed.
The meeting elicited a sharp attack from Likud and praise from Labor.
MK Gideon Sa'ar, head of the Likud's public relations team, issued a statement saying that Kadima had a policy of flip-flops. "Two weeks after Kadima's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared Abbas irrelevant, Kadima's No. 2 met with him.
"Kadima's zig-zags are causing Israel heavy diplomatic damage," he said.
Labor, on the other hand, welcomed Olmert's decision to "free Peres to meet" with Abbas, and issued a statement saying that such meetings strengthened the moderate forces in the PA against Hamas. The party also called for additional contacts with the Arab world, "as [Labor head Amir] Peretz has done since Hamas's victory."
Last week, Abbas endorsed Olmert in the upcoming elections. In an interview published in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Abbas said that Olmert's victory would be a positive outcome.
"We'll respect the will of the Israeli people," he told the paper, adding, "I hope Olmert wins."
Abbas said that he knew Olmert "well," and that he believed that "with him we could work in a productive way."