Thursday, June 19, 2008

Don't hold your breath

The Hamas ceasefire is a positive sign, but even if it sticks, there are plenty of questions still left to answer

By Ian Black, Wednesday June 18 2008

"......Abbas has virtually nothing to show for going along with the US-Israeli policy, backed by the Quartet and its envoy Tony Blair, of "showcasing" the West Bank to prove to misguided Gazans that they are backing the wrong horse in supporting Hamas (though there is some polling evidence that its popularity has been waning). Aides admit privately that Abbas is in a "desperate" position. Now the likelihood must be of a return to the format of the Saudi-backed Mecca agreement of last year, under which Hamas mandated the PLO to negotiate with Israel, accepted, (however grudgingly or ambiguously) existing peace agreements (Oslo) and respected a ceasefire. The burning issue of recognition of Israel (and the Hamas charter) will again be left sensibly to one side.

Abbas's demand that Hamas restore the pre-takeover status quo in Gaza will not be easily met. But if the ceasefire does hold, Hamas will be in a strong position to contest new presidential and parliamentary elections. Palestinian unity will put the Palestinians on a far more equal footing with the Israelis. It will also help those, especially in Europe, who are advocating an end to the boycott of the Islamists which is at the heart of current western policy. So small beginnings in Gaza could yield big dividends more widely – even if experience teaches that it would be foolhardy to hold your breath. "

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