Israel has backed down from an international campaign to keep the Islamic militant group Hamas out of upcoming Palestinian elections.  Israel says Hamas participation will harm efforts to revive the internationally-backed Roadmap peace plan.

Israel has dropped plans to block the participation of Hamas in landmark Palestinian parliamentary elections this January.  Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told VOA. "We are not going to do anything active to interfere in the Palestinian elections," he says.

Israel backed down from threats to hinder the elections, after an international campaign aimed at keeping Hamas out failed to recruit support.  The U.S. told Israel that while it regards Hamas as a terrorist organization, it would not dictate who could participate in Palestinian elections.

Mr. Regev says the lukewarm international response is unfortunate.

"Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization, responsible for countless acts of senseless violence and murder against Israeli civilians.  And as long as they are a terrorist organization, armed to the teeth, they are not a legitimate political partner," Mr. Regev says.

But Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says Hamas participation is democracy at work.

"The way to one authority, the way to one gun, the way to public order has to go through the road of elections," Mr.Erekat says.

Polls show Hamas has about 30-percent support among Palestinians. Its charity network - and its campaign of suicide bombings - have won popularity.  The group is regarded as an alternative to the Palestinian Authority, which is widely seen as corrupt.

But Israel has warned that if Hamas enters the Palestinian parliament, it could doom the peace process.