Obama To Open Back-Channel With Hamas?

4709174President-elect Barack Obama's team is likely to seek a back-channel, clandestine dialogue with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, according to a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper.

If confirmed (which they are unlikely to be in the near future – if ever), covert talks with Hamas would reverse a long-held Bush administration policy of completely refusing to deal with the group.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip for more than a year, since it seized power from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction after an election.

(KEYSTONE/Laurent Gillieron)
The Guardian report says Obama's likely Mideast-envoy-to-be, Richard Haass (at left), is in favor of creating a dialogue with the group.

"This is going to be an administration that is committed to negotiating with ¬critical parties on critical issues," another source with knowledge of recent discussions among Obama's foreign policy team told the newspaper.

According to the sources who spoke to the Guardian, U.S. intelligence agencies could be used as a channel for communications with Hamas — communications which would likely never be acknowledged.

The current fighting in Gaza may serve only to solidify the Obama team's resolve to seek a quiet discussion with Hamas.

Israel has dropped a stunning array of explosives on the tiny Palestinian territory — allegedly "smart" bombs that "pinpoint" Hamas targets, and for days now Israeli ground forces have also operated inside the Gaza Strip. But rockets keep falling on Israel.

Israeli officials insist their goal is to crush Hamas, and they have certainly dealt a severe blow to the group's operations. But having now killed about 760 Palestinians – less than a third of whom were confirmed militants — they've also created a whole lot of sympathy for Hamas' cause in the Palestinian territories and in the neighboring Arab states.

For that reason, the group will never be completely destroyed by military means alone; the very attempt to do so ensures that it will always regenerate. Talking to the militants, Obama's team seems to hope, may be the way to turn Hamas away from it's modus operandi of terror.

But there are no guarantees it will work. Hamas could just as easily use any lull in fighting — under cover of clandestine negotiations — to clandestinely re-arm, then pull out of the quiet conversation (which the U.S. would still be unable to even acknowledge, more so in fact) and then go back attacking Israel.

Welcome to the White House, Mr. Obama. Roll the dice.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.