NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: January 31

Hamas must be brought into peace process, says Tony Blair

Hamas must somehow be brought into the Middle East peace process because the policy of isolating Gaza in the quest for a settlement will not work, Tony Blair has told The Times.

The former prime minister implicitly criticises the strategy followed by the Bush Administration and Israel of focusing all peace and reconstruction efforts on the West Bank. “It was half of what we needed,” he said.

In an interview with Ginny Dougary in the Saturday Magazine, Mr Blair says that the strategy of “pushing Gaza aside” and trying to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank “was never going to work and will never work”. He hints in references to how peace was eventually achieved in Northern Ireland that the time may be approaching to talk to Hamas … “My basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The complete interview includes this passage:

Given that he criticised Bush for trying to remove Arafat back in 2002 – I repeat his quote, “We have got to negotiate with whoever is elected by the Palestinians” – does that mean he changed his view when Hamas was elected?

“Erm? certainly my basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody,” but he repeats the Quartet position that there can be no talks, official or unofficial, with Hamas until they renounce violence and recognise Israel. “I have always thought that there is a distinction between the difficulty of negotiating with Hamas as part of the peace process about the two-state solution if they won’t accept one of the states, and talking to Hamas as the de facto power in Gaza.”

Could I say, perhaps, then, that I suspect that you have spoken to Hamas in an unofficial capacity and you could give a [diplomatically guarded] response?

“Er? er?” Blair smiles. Is it tricky? “It is tricky, yes.” OK, I’ll just smile back at you then.

OK. Let’s take that absence of a denial as a silent yes.

While two propositions are now being voiced increasingly widely — Hamas has to be engaged and the Palestinians need a national unity government — the extraordinary irony is that this is what Hamas itself has been pushing for, for two years now. It is Israel and its allies who have maintained solidarity as rejectionists.

At the heart of the political impasse there is an unholy alliance between Fatah (in its posture as the voice of Palestinian “moderation”) and Israel. How is it that a Palestinian national movement can claim its legitimacy not on the basis of its popularity but instead on its willingness to work with an Israeli government?

Fatah has consistently resisted efforts at restoring Palestinian unity because it recognizes that in the process it will lose power. It fiercely clings to its role in the Palestinian Liberation Organization — which has long been internationally recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinian people — for the simple reason that it has been able to exclude Hamas from the organization.

If The Quartet is really serious about fostering Palestinian unity, instead of looking for ways to coax a moderated Hamas into the “peace process”, maybe it’s time to put pressure on Fatah by spelling out that everyone can see — and will stop pretending otherwise — that its political relevance is rapidly disappearing.

Hamas is a Mideast reality

My conversations with Hamas’ rank and file suggest that the militant organization has evolved considerably since the group unexpectedly won power in Gaza in free elections in 2006. Before that, Hamas was known for its suicide bombers, not its bureaucrats. But that had to change. “It is much more difficult to run a government than to oppose and resist Israeli occupation,” a senior Hamas leader told me while on official business in Egypt in 2007. “If we do not provide the goods to our people, they’ll disown us.”

Despite its wooden and reactionary rhetoric, Hamas is a rational actor, a conclusion reached by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who also served as Ariel Sharon’s national security advisor and who is certainly not an Israeli peacenik. The Hamas leadership has undergone a transformation “right under our very noses” by recognizing that “its ideological goal is not attainable and will not be in the foreseeable future,” Halevy wrote recently in Yedioth Ahronoth. His verdict is that Hamas is now ready and willing to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state within the temporary borders of 1967.

Similarly, a U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute analysis published just weeks before the launch of the Israeli offensive concluded that Hamas was considering a shift of its position. “Israel’s stance toward [Hamas] … has been a major obstacle to substantive peacemaking,” concluded the study. [continued…]

Abbas rejects Hamas leader’s call for new PLO

The PLO, which was founded in 1964, includes Abbas’s secular Fatah party and several other Palestinian factions but not the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation in its current form does not represent anymore a point of reference for the Palestinians,” Meshaal said on Wednesday in the Qatari capital Doha.

“It has become a centre of division for the Palestinian household.”

Meshaal said Hamas and other radical factions opposed to the policies of the Western-backed Abbas would set up “a new, national authority” representing all Palestinians groups.

Abbas, who is also president of the Palestinian Authority and heads the negotiations with Israel, accused Meshaal of wanting to destroy the PLO. [continued…]

U.S., Arab allies nix Israeli airstrike on Syrian Site

An Israeli plan to launch an airstrike against a Palestinian camp in Syria during its recent invasion of Gaza was vetoed by the George W. Bush administration using pressure from allies like Egypt and Turkey, according to administration officials.

“There was zip support for expanding the war,” one State Department official said.

The targeted was the Hamas camp in the town of Yarmouk, Syria, some 15 kilometers east of Damascus, where Hamas opened an office in 1991 and which quickly became the operational nerve center for the group’s military wing, these sources said.

More than a dozen senior Hamas leaders were to attend a meeting at the refugee camp, and the Israeli strike was designed to decapitate the group’s top leadership at a single stroke including Khaled Meshaal, chief of the movement’s political bureau, these sources said.

The United States got wind of the operation through its human sources in Israel as well as by technical means, former U.S. intelligence officials said. The National Security Agency (NSA) and other U.S. groups stepped up scrutiny of Israel during “Operation Cast Lead,” launched in late December. [continued…]

Iran nuclear threat greater than economic crisis, says Benjamin Netanyahu

Preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon is a more pressing challenge than solving the economic crisis, Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

Mr Netanyahu said that while economic problems could ultimately be reversed, there could be no going back if Tehran succeeded in its “100-yard dash” to building a nuclear bomb.

The former Israeli finance minister and favourite to become the next Israeli prime minister said: “What is not reversible is the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a fanatic radical regime committed to a pre-medieval view of the world. [continued…]

Chaos in Khoza’a

Realising that they would all soon be crushed, Rawhiya [al Najar, a 50-year-old mother of three,] grabbed a white flag, got a small group together, and tentatively stepped out in the alleyway to see if it was safe. Several villagers claim that Israeli soldiers shouted across at them to turn right and head up the path; they complied. “Rawhiya and I were at the front, followed by the rest of the women, then children, then men,” recalls 23-year-old Yasmin al Najar, her neighbour. “As we rounded the corner, I saw a special forces soldier in a window at the end of the street. He smiled at me and we thought that meant ‘go ahead’, because they were telling us our evacuation had been co-ordinated. So we went ahead and they shot Rawhiya in the head.”
The bullet was fired by a sniper in a house the Israelis had commandeered at the start of the incursion. They had two hostages in the basement: a 14-year-old boy and a woman in her 40s. The boy was Iman al Najar’s brother, Mohammed.

Outside, there was chaos. Fragments of Rawhiya’s bullet had sprayed Yasmin too; clutching at her wounds, the young woman spun around and followed the others back into the courtyard. When their supposed saviours returned blood-spattered and shrieking, the villagers who had waited behind moved closer to outright panic. Mobile phone calls were put in to emergency services in the hope that the Palestinian Red Crescent would be allowed to come in and save Rawhiya. The answer came through shortly afterwards: the Red Crescent had contacted the IDF and been told that Khoza’a was now a closed military zone. Medical staff were not allowed to enter. Witnesses claim that one ambulance that attempted to reach Rawhiya anyway was shot at from the ground and air, forcing the paramedic, Marwan Abu Raeda, to seek cover in a nearby house. He was not able to remove Rawhiya’s corpse until 8pm: she had taken almost 12 hours to die. [continued…]

Israel must investigate charges of crimes in Gaza: U.S.

Israel must investigate allegations that its army violated international law during its three-week war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, the new U.S. envoy to the United Nations said on Thursday.

“We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate and we also call upon all members of the international community to refrain from politicizing these important issues,” Ambassador Susan Rice said in her debut speech before the U.N. Security Council.

Rice said that Hamas had been guilty of violating international law “through its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in southern Israel and the use of civilian facilities to provide protection for its terrorist attacks.” [continued…]

Revealed: Recent U.S.-Iran nuclear talks involved key officials

As Barack Obama settles into the Oval Office and begins his stated mission of reorienting U.S. foreign policy, there’s been a flurry of attention to exactly when and how Obama will open a direct dialogue with Iran, as he promised in his campaign. No question that will mark a break from the stinging rhetoric and halting, inconsistent diplomacy of the Bush years. But several sources told The Cable that the informal dialogue between senior Americans and the Iranians was much more robust in recent months than has been previously reported.

Over the past year, our sources confirmed, former Defense Secretary William Perry and a group of high-level U.S. nuclear nonproliferation specialists and U.S. experts on Iran held a series of meetings in European cities with Iranian officials under the auspices of the Pugwash group. (Pugwash, a group founded in 1957 by an international group of scientists, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for advocating for the elimination of nuclear weapons.) Perry served as a member of the Obama campaign’s national security working group.

Sources familiar with the meetings suggest they may be coming to light now via deliberate leaks to the Iranian media, by jockeying Iranian political power players trying to maneuver for advantage amid a shifting Washington-Tehran dynamic and their own upcoming elections in June. Among the Iranian officials who attended the Pugwash dialogues, The Cable has learned, was Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian ambassador and permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. [continued…]

Writings offer look at administration debate on Iran

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the past week have sent repeated signals to Iran that the door is now wide open for direct talks between the two countries three decades after the Iranian revolution, but U.S. officials say the method, the pace and the tenor of that diplomacy still remain to be settled.

But while officials say a plan will not be in place for several months, key players in the discussions have outlined their views in papers they wrote before joining the administration, giving a unique window into the administration’s debate.

Obama, during a private discussion with Jewish leaders a year ago, also provided a road map to his thinking. “The time, I believe, has come to talk directly to the Iranians and to lay out our clear terms: their end of pursuit of nuclear weapons, an end of their support of terrorism and an end of their threat to Israel and other countries in the region,” Obama said, according to a transcript. Bigger “carrots,” he said, will give the United States more leverage to win support for sanctions if Iran rebuffs the approach. [continued…]

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: January 31

  1. geoff

    Blair, a 5 letter word for opportunist. Sorry it is very hard for me not to think that Tony boy isn’t again desperately trying to save his completely discredited name. So now Tony boy thinks that Hamas should be spoken to, wow. I hadn’t seen the interview, so thanks, I needed a good laugh and a reminder that men of faith are always con-artists extraordinaire. Of course it could also be that someone in the new administration has slipped the convert a few green-backs to change his position regarding to whom needs to be spoken, eh. With opportunists it is really hard not to be cynical, though I do appreciate that Tony boy’s St Paul’s moment maybe a sign from on high, so-to-speak.

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