tampabay.com

Blair snub of Hamas a misstep

By BILL MAXWELL
Published July 29, 2007


Tony Blair, the British former prime minister, the new Middle East peace envoy for the group known as the Quartet, is on a doomed mission.

The Quartet, made up of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, ostensibly sent Blair to the region to aid in improving the infrastructure, the economy and government operations in the West Bank as the first step toward establishing the mythic Palestinian state.

But based on Blair's primary message during his initial visit to Jerusalem last week, the Quartet is courting diplomatic disaster. Blair, following the dictates of George W. Bush, will not talk with Hamas, the militant Islamic group now in control of the Gaza Strip after it militarily ousted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his secular Fatah Party. Abbas and Fatah now control the West Bank.

Although the two Palestinian population centers are now both diplomatically and geographically split, Blair hypocritically claims that he is working for the good of all Palestinians and the region as a whole.

"I am nothing if not an optimist," he told senior representatives of the Quartet. "I will probably have need for all that quality of optimism for this task ahead, but I am determined to try."

In a veiled rejection of Hamas, Blair said: "There is a sense that we can regain momentum. That's the crucial thing. And if we are able to regain that momentum, then a whole lot of things become possible, not least the fact that those people of peace can then feel that the force is with them and not with those who want conflict."

Translation: "Those people of peace" are Abbas and Fatah, who apparently can tolerate Israeli occupation and continued construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian land. "The force" is the Quartet, led by Bush, who gave Israel a free hand in Palestine for the last six years. And "those who want conflict" represent Hamas, the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinians, who reject Israeli occupation and the unrelenting construction of illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

Blair is foolishly and unnecessarily demonizing Hamas. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who travels to the region this week, lent her vacuity to Blair's mission when she told reporters: "Hamas, I think, knows what is expected for international respectability."

Blair will fail precisely because he intends to blow off Hamas, which is an integral part of Palestinian aspirations for an independent state.

"We warn the new envoy that any attempt to marginalize the Hamas movement will cost him his credibility," Hamas hard-liner Mahmoud Zahar, a former Palestinian foreign minister, told the Associated Press.

Last week, in response to a meeting between representatives of the group of 22 Arab nations with Israelis in Jerusalem, Mouin Rabbani, senior Middle East analyst with the International Crisis Group in Amman, Jordan, pointed out a dangerous reality that seems to elude the Quartet and Israel when they reject Hamas: "There is a potentially embarrassing situation where senior Arab diplomats are meeting with Israel officials but don't meet with Hamas."

Blair and his Quartet superiors are so hell-bent on their wrongheaded crusade that they even are ignoring the wisdom of their friends and fellow insiders.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said during a recent interview with National Public Radio that the international leaders should talk with Hamas: "I don't think you can just cast (Hamas) into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking into account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community. They won an election that we insisted upon having. And so, as unpleasant a group they may be and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think through some means, the Middle East Quartet or other international organizations, Hamas has to be engaged."

And none other than Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator and currently director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative at the Century Foundation in Washington, said in the Sunday Telegraph recently that Blair must talk with Hamas just as he talked with extremists in resolving the conflict in Northern Ireland.

"For any process to have sustainability, legitimacy, and to guarantee security," Levy said, "it will have to be inclusive, not divisive, and to bring in Hamas over time. ... Mr. Blair, with his Northern Ireland experience, may understand this better than most."

Perhaps Blair does understand peacemaking better than most. Unfortunately, by snubbing Hamas, he has abandoned his instincts for peace in order to remain an instrument of Bush's blind support of Israeli policies, many of which the Hague Tribunal has deemed to be illegal.