Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fatah/Hamas reconciliation - towards a Palestinian State?

We should take heart that from time to time we can be surprised by developments in the Israel / Palestine conflict. Yesterday in Cairo, Fatah and Hamas announced a reconciliation deal. Four years ago that the two factions were battling against each other with guns on the streets of Gaza. Now, with the help of the mediation efforts of Egypt, the two mainstream political entities wish to persuade us that they can work together.

Time now for the European Union to step up to the plate if it is to be considered a serious player in foreign affairs.

I met recently with Ambassador Manuel Hassassian just before the Palestinian Delegation to the UK was upgraded by the Foreign Office to the status of a ‘mission’. We discussed the proposed declaration of a Palestinian State. The Palestinian National Authority seeks to garner the support of a majority of governments at the UN and could make a declaration this year. This alternative approach to realising Palestinian aspirations could be seen as an indictment of the US dominated Quartet that appears to be going no-where. When I was visiting Palestine and Israel in February Palestinians on several occasions asserted that the crisis in the region needed a stronger involvement on the part of the international community if there was to be any significant change.

So how might we move forwards? Hamas is not a unified entity but a factionalised group. It has conveniently held the line that negotiations with Israel on the peace process and security issues are for the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas has issued conflicting statements on the recognition of the State of Israel and although it has supported and enforced ceasefires, it has refused to renounce violence against civilians. Yet there is an opportunity to move Hamas to become a constructive partner in the resolution of the conflict. Surely the recognition of a Palestinian State would require that the key political entities must formally recognise the State of Israel and international law regarding violence against civilians?

The governments of the EU are currently divided on the question of the recognition of a Palestinian state. Such division is not necessarily a weakness. The EU is yet to be persuaded that this is the right time for the establishment of a Palestinian State.  That is a good starting point for an intermediary to a dialogue process. The recognition of governments in Europe would add much legitimacy to a Palestinian declaration of independence. This is one situation where carrots are more likely to be effective than sticks. Continuing to isolate Hamas will only serve to reinforce its links with Syria and Iran. Tough talk may be the better option – will the EU play a leading role?