The United States is pressing Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain to become a special envoy to the Middle East, representing the diplomatic “quartet” of world powers, administration officials said Wednesday.
The appointment would be the most visible attempt at laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state since President Clinton wrangled with Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak during the waning hours of his administration in 2001.
If the proposal, endorsed by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, goes forward, and if Mr. Blair, who leaves office next week, accepts, he would work on behalf of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia to help the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, build the institutions and apparatus necessary for a viable state.
Blair is about as respected in the Middle East as rotting fruit. Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon in 2006 contribute to the impression of a man who simply doesn’t understand this part of the world (and rather likes dropping bombs on “terrorists” and thousands of innocent civilians.)
Two major articles were published yesterday in the US press that deserve comment. Both were written by Ahmed Yousef, political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. First, the New York Times:
The events in Gaza over the last few days have been described in the West as a coup. In essence, they have been the opposite. Eighteen months ago, our Hamas Party won the Palestinian parliamentary elections and entered office under Prime Minister Ismail Haniya but never received the handover of real power from Fatah, the losing party. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has now tried to replace the winning Hamas government with one of his own, returning Fatah to power while many of our elected members of Parliament languish in Israeli jails. That is the real coup.
From the day Hamas won the general elections in 2006 it offered Fatah the chance of joining forces and forming a unity government. It tried to engage the international community to explain its platform for peace. It has consistently offered a 10-year cease-fire with the Israelis to try to create an atmosphere of calm in which we resolve our differences. Hamas even adhered to a unilateral cease-fire for 18 months in an effort to normalize the situation on the ground. None of these points appear to have been recognized in the press coverage of the last few days.
And the Washington Post:
The Palestinian National Authority apparently joins the list of elected governments targeted or toppled over the past century by interventionism: nations that had the courage to take American rhetoric at face value and elect whomever they would. No doubt some in Washington persist in the fiction that the United States is following a “road map” to democracy for Palestinians, just as others believe the Iraq war has been a sincere exercise in nation-building. Neoconservative strategists have miscalculated, however, and Hamas is stronger than ever.
For the first time in months, Gaza is secure. This may be a momentary peace as Israel prepares an attempt to retake parts of Gaza. Yet neither blunt force nor U.S. subterfuge will extinguish Palestinian aspirations for self-governance, free from outside interference.
The message was clear, though the vast majority of the Western elites will ignore it. Hamas is a force to be reckoned with, and respected, for no other reason that it won a legitimate election last year and speaks for a sizable portion of the Palestinian population. He continues:
The Bush administration never intended to honor the outcome of fair and transparent elections in the occupied territories. The embargo, designed to punish the electorate for its choice, was the first step toward crushing new democratic institutions. The second has been to find collaborators for the American agenda and to supply them with advisers, funds and weapons for their campaign of destabilization. The final step will be to truncate Gaza from any proposed Palestinian state and make it a de facto prison for all “undesirable” aspects of Palestinian nationalism. This will culminate in provocations designed to trigger a military response from Israel, which will “justify” a war on Gazans. This would be tragic for all concerned, and the international community, especially the Arab League, must not allow such an outcome.
What can be salvaged from the wreckage of the multiparty system? Those who have dissolved the government and joined with the occupiers are embraced by the Bush and Olmert administrations, which have released Palestinian tax revenue and taken other steps to shore up the Abbas government’s legitimacy and proclaim it the future of a Palestine shorn of troublesome Gaza.
Yet it remains that Hamas has a world in common with Fatah and other parties, and they all share the same goals — the end of occupation; the release of political prisoners; the right of return for all Palestinians; and freedom to be a nation equal among nations, secure in its own borders and at peace. For more than 60 years, Palestinians have resisted walls and checkpoints intended to divide them. Now they must resist the poisonous inducements to fight one another and resume a unified front against the occupation.
We urge the Bush administration not to repeat the mistakes that have become hallmarks of its actions in the Middle East. Allow the Palestinian people to chart their own course, free from the influence of those who seek little more than to perpetuate the status quo. The alternative is unacceptable.
Are Washington, London and Canberra listening? Of course not. They’ll continue to live under the delusion that Mahmoud Abbas can be propped up indefinitely. The reality of Hamas will be ignored. The will of the Palestinians will, as ever, be cast aside. But, the rules of the game are changing and Washington’s influence is declining. Likewise Israel’s. The fight to end the occupation will continue, long after Fatah and Hamas have patched up their differences. And resistance to the occupation should be both expected, and encouraged.