WHEN John Kerry, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was in Gaza this week he was handed a confidential letter for President Obama. It had come from Hamas via the United Nations representative in Gaza and the US Consulate in Jerusalem; Mr Kerry duly forwarded the letter to the White House. We know something of what the letter contained because the Hamas foreign minister Ahmad Youssef has told one or two journalists. Essentially, Hamas asks America to engage with it instead of continuing to marginalise it. The letter says that there can be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians without Hamas and no peace in the Middle East without a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

President Obama should be willing to test the authenticity and sincerity of this letter. It is easy to think of a lot of questions that need to be asked about it before regarding it as some kind of break-through for future negotiations. But it should not be rejected out of hand on the usual grounds that “Hamas is a terrorist organisation and we don't talk with terrorists”. Talks can be started at a relatively low diplomatic level although George Mitchell, America's special envoy to the Middle East, should be ready to become involved if the prospects are favourable. Israel should not be given a veto on such talks. What we have learnt over the past eight years is that until some new thinking is injected into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process there will be no progress.