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Hamas' role in peace process.

Byline: Arab News

You can call it belated wisdom or recognizing or reconciling to the inevitable.

Tony Blair, the envoy of the Middle East Quartet, now says Hamas should be part of the Middle East peace process, indirectly repudiating a policy of the Bush administration with which he was in full agreement. By admitting that the strategy of pushing Gaza aside, that trying to create a Palestinian state on just the West Bank "was never going to work and will never work" and that his basic predisposition is that "in a situation like this you talk to everybody", Blair is apparently acknowledging that Hamas cannot be wished out of existence. But his statements are in direct conflict with the US and the EU, members of the Quartet, who are opposed to any Palestinian government that includes Hamas. How Blair will reconcile his position with that of the major constituents of the Quartet? Will President Obama accept a Hamas role in Palestinian affairs?

For now, it is impossible to get around Hamas, especially after Israel's failure to bring about the collapse of the movement during its recent brutal onslaught on Gaza. True, the offensive dealt Hamas a heavy blow, but the people of Gaza did not rise in revolt against Hamas leaders as Israel and those in the West who supported and encouraged the Jewish state in its latest murderous fury expected. The crippling international blockade imposed on Gaza's borders too failed to oust Hamas. In fact, the latest war was an extension of the blockade. And much of what remains for Israel from a war that killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians is the image of a defiant Hamas and the TV images of dead Palestinian women and children, and a world asking how Israel imagined it could improve its security by killing Palestinian children in their hundreds.

On the other side, it is President Abbas who seems to be the biggest loser, seen as increasingly irrelevant by his people both in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel is yet to do anything that would convince ordinary Palestinians that his moderation is the road to a Palestinian state or an end to their misery.

If Blair is willing to allow Hamas a role in future peacemaking, it is also incumbent upon the Hamas leaders to ask what kind of role they seek for themselves. Was their electoral victory in 2006 a democratically-sanctioned mandate to wage resistance or broker a peace deal? The Palestinian people have the right to resort to all available means to throw off the shackles of occupation. This does not mean that they or their leaders should not consider the possible costs of actions and balance these against potential gains.

Whatever decisions the leaders take should have the support of the Palestinian people and this is what democracy is all about.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, one question repeatedly asked by some Americans was: Why they hate us? Karen Hughes who later served as the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs in the Department of State came up with the answer: "They hate us because we elect our leaders." She was wrong. No people would hate a country for choosing their own leaders. The problem arises only when a people or country wants to choose leaders for other people or other countries. Blair now recognizes this. Palestinians can only hope that the Quartet would too.

Copyright: Arab News 2009 All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Feb 2, 2009
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