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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Listen to the Palestinian people

A new poll shows strong Palestinian support for Salam Fayyad to be Prime Minister in a Fatah/Hamas unity government. The same poll also shows that most Palestinians want a new government to support President Abbas' peace efforts (such as they are). Mr Fayyad is indeed very much the Palestinians' best bet and it is to be hoped that the Palestinian people will be listened to when it comes to who heads their government.

At this point, some people will start shouting at me about how the world refused to listen (and cut off aid) when the Palestinians elected a Hamas government in 2006. That is not true. What actually happened is that the international community immediately offered to work with the Hamas government if it accepted the Quartet Principles (the recognition of Israel, the renunciation of violence, adherence to previous diplomatic agreements), which Hamas refused to do; a huge flow of aid (including UK aid) continued to flood in, including through the EU's Temporary International Mechanism.

When the Palestinian President exercised his constitutional right to appoint a Hamas/Fatah unity government in 2007, Hamas in Gaza overthrew that government in a bloody coup. That is why the West Bank is now ruled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Gaza is now ruled by Hamas, which continues to oppress the Palestinian people living under its rule (and if you really care about the Palestinians, then click on this link and read this report). Indeed, one could argue that, effectively, no-one now properly rules Gaza. That surely makes the creation of a proper PA government all the more urgent. 

The creation of a Fatah/Hamas unity government is far from being a done deal. The parties' talks on the formation of such a government are currently breaking down. If (and it is a big if) what is proposed is a government of 'technocrats' whose members might actually hail from neither Fatah nor Hamas, and if the uninspiring President Abbas were to succeed in persuading such a government to sign up to the Quartet Principles, then the creation of such a government might not be entirely bad news, despite the involvement of Hamas. If Hamas goes unreformed, then I have to deeply caveat that last statement, given what a thoroughly obnoxious and threatening organisation it will remain; starry-eyed optimism helps no-one.

President Obama (and David Cameron) has rightly pointed out that any Palestinian government involving Hamas presents Israel with major challenges - how can any country be expected to talk substantively to a movement that is pledged explicitly to that country's destruction? One way of meeting those challenges could be for Hamas to be subsumed within a unity government that includes no Hamas ministers, accepts the Quartet Principles and governs Gaza in much the same way that the PA has been governing the West Bank. Despite my earlier caveat about the threat that Hamas continues to represent, such a government could still represent progress on where we are today, if it meant more economic development, enhanced co-operation on security (yes, that includes security for Israelis, a vital part of this equation if you seriously want peace) and an end to Hamas' appalling suppression of human rights (although Fatah is also pretty awful in this regard)

Such a government could turn with new vigour to peace talks, which remain the only hope for achieving a two-state solution that would bring peace, justice and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike, in contrast to unilateral gestures that would only delay the day on which peace can be achieved.

UPDATE on Tuesday 21 June 2011: I was also fascinated to read this hair-raising account of the full extent of Palestinian infighting at present, including a report of the killing by one (Palestinian) group of fourteen Palestinian civilians in Syria.

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