Will talks help?

SO, the Fatah-Hamas split sees the West deliver the expected political and economic pat on the back to Mahmoud Abbas. The Fatah chief announces the new emergency government and Israel quickly releases blocked custom revenues and prisoners in a show of support while Washington announces $190 million in aid for the new setup after calling for an international conference to restart the stalled peace process.

Does this signify progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? We don’t think so. For one thing, that the West choked the elected Hamas-dispensation eventually to the sidelines yet took a blink of an eye to flush the new ‘installed’ governnment with hundreds of millions does not reflect too well on its pledge of bringing democracy to the Middle East. Furthermore, its plans of bolstering Fatah in the West Bank by pumping it with money while simply ignoring Hamas in Gaza betray a glaring disregard of Palestinian politics, calling their ability to promote genuine progress into serious question.

As things stand, sidelining Hamas amounts to practically ignoring Gaza and a democratic mandate. And if Bush, Olmert and Abbas really feel that with time Hamas will simply fade into oblivion while they go about preparing the final peace plan, they are more mistaken than Hamas about regaining recognition anytime soon. It seems strange, to say the least, that those in charge really believe such steps are going to take things forward.

At the heart of the matter is the Palestinian internal logjam, which has played right into Israel’s hands. Hamas and Fatah did themselves, and their people, the greatest disservice by indulging in the mini civil war that led to the breakup of the elected government. But Fatah has gone a step further away from Palestine’s original cause by the split within the Palestinian Authority.

Ironically, Abbas need not look beyond Hamas for a taste of things to come. The US and Israel didn’t think twice before dismissing the latter after its landslide victory in January 2006 simply because Haniya’s boys were not to their liking, because they would not come round to recognising Israel. If the chop meant ridiculing the electoral process and insulting the suffering people for their choice, few in Tel Aviv and Washington had issues with it.

Similarly, Abbas will receive attention only so long as he keeps reading out of the script. But a changed stance cannot be ruled out at any point in time, considering the West’s checkered track record. For all intents and purposes, you can expect little from the proposed talks on the Middle East.

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