The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Time to move

...I was just about to post on Soros column in the Financial Times, taken from the same article in the New York Book Review, but focusing on the Palestinian national unity government. Here are two excerpts:

The Bush administration is again committing a blunder in the Middle East by supporting the Israeli government in its refusal to recognise a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. This precludes any progress towards a peace settlement at a time when such progress could help avert conflagration in the greater Middle East.

The US and Israel seek to deal only with Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president. They hope new elections would deny Hamas the majority it has in the Palestinian legislative council. This is a hopeless strategy, because Hamas would boycott early elections and, even if their outcome resulted in Hamas's exclusion from the government, no peace agreement would hold without Hamas support.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is pursing a different path. In a February summit in Mecca between Mr Abbas and the Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, the Saudi government worked out an agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which have been clashing violently, to form a national unity government. Hamas agreed "to respect international resolutions and the agreements (with Israel) signed by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation", including the Oslo accords. The Saudis view this accord as the prelude to the offer of a peace settlement with Israel, to be guaranteed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. But no progress is possible as long as the Bush administration and Ehud Olmert's Israeli government refuse to recognise a unity government that includes Hamas.


There is now the chance of a political solution with Hamas brought on board by Saudi Arabia. It would be tragic to miss out on that prospect because the Bush administration is mired in the ideology of the war on terror.

Meanwhile, as expected, there is some movement in Europe towards dealing with the new government and ending the financial boycott, notably from Norway. Probably soon from France, too. I understand that Germany could be more flexible as well in dealing with Hamas, but is a bit tied at the moment as it performs EU Presidency. (Another problem is that the US anti-missile shield for Poland and the Czech republic complicates relations with Washington.)

If the EU dealt with the new government, as I think it should, it would probably not immediately make a difference on the international scene. The US and Israel would hardly be impressed. But it would for sure strenghten Hamas' moderates (the two ideologues Zahar and Siam are already no longer members of cabinet) and improve conditions on the ground for the population.

I see no reason why a cabinet with moderate people such as Finance Minister Salam Fajad, Information Minister Mustafa Barghuti and Tourism Minister Abou Daijeh could not be dealt with.