By Ray Fleming IT stands out a mile that no just or permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem will be achieved unless Hamas and the people of Gaza are a full part of it. The Annapolis peace conference ignored Hamas but the movement's leader, Ismail Haniya, appears to have taken the initiative by indirectly communicating to Israel that he has the will and ability to stop the rocket fire at Israel from Gaza on the condition that Israel stops the killing of Palestinians and lifts its economic blockade of Gaza; talks would follow a truce.

Israel's initial reaction was negative; the prime minister's spokesman said, “Our partner for dialogue is the legitimate Palestinian government”, a reference to the West Bank administration of Mahmoud Abbas which, strictly speaking, is not the “legitimate” government but rather the West's and Israel's “preferred” government.

Subsequently, however, there have been signs that Israel might be interested in talks with Hamas, arranged with the help of Egypt, although Hamas will no doubt be asked to renouce its charter's commitment to Israel's destruction as a condition.

Sooner or later Hamas will have to be admitted to this peace process and given the opportunity to show whether it is ready to be a constructive partner. The longer it is left out in the cold the less meaningful will be any agreement arrived at between Israel and the part of Palestine represented by Mahmoud Abbas that excludes Gaza.