Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked Israeli leadership to continue to consider him as the chief negotiator for the Palestinians, despite a major win of opposition party Hamas in January 25th legislative elections.Meanwhile, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel would not negotiate with any Hamas-led Palestinian government — despite the fact that Hamas was elected in transparent, democratic elections.  "As long as it doesn’t contain a Hamas government, we will speak and cooperate with the [PA] with caution and responsibility – with the intention of strengthening those who acknowledge the right of Israel to live without terror and within safe borders."

The statements follow a meeting this morning between Abbas and leaders of the Hamas party, which won a majority of the seats in the legislative elections on Jan. 25.  During the meeting, Hamas leaders said Abbas did not place pressure on them to change their stance toward Israel.

Right wing Likud members criticized Olmert for even considering the possibility of negotiating with the Palestinian Authority after Palestinians elected Hamas.  They also criticized the Israeli government’s decision to hand over $40 million of Palestinian tax money that had been withheld by Israel.