Finally one Israeli-Palestinian story that does not result in blaming both sides?
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has told Arab leaders he plans to seize a new opportunity to promote peace.
He said Israel would free 250 prisoners from the Fatah group led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh brings together Mr Olmert, Mr Abbas, Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan.
On Sunday the Israeli cabinet decided to release the frozen tax funds to the Palestinian emergency government based in the West Bank.
A few points:
1. It's good that this meeting is occurring and that the parties are showing support for Abbas. Too bad he didn't get this kind of support from the Arab countries, Israel, and the West before Hamas' recent 'coup' in Gaza.
2. Olmert has made the right decision: peace instead of hostility.
3. Hamas should seize this opportunity — although since it's isolated in Gaza and left out of the new government, I do not know how it can react in any political manner, although militarily it can stop attacking both Israel and Palestine.
4. This shows what diplomacy and open channels for discussion can accomplish: this move is ultimately good for the Palestinians and, in effect, the Israelis. Diplomacy and peace, however, take more time than war and aggression, which aren't instant fixes either. In the past Israel's military excursions have led to more political and security woes.
5. Because of the aforementioned slow and steady course of diplomacy, neither the Israeli government nor the electorate should expect to see the immediate results of this progressive move.
6. It is likely Abbas will have to eventually form a real government instead of an emergency one in the West Bank. When he does so Hamas should be peacefully welcomed and/or elections should be called when the time is right. International mediators should be called if needed and Israel and the US shouldn't object to the outcome of Palestinian democracy, further driving up Palestinian hostility to them and isolating an already angry people.
So how did the Hamas-Fatah rift grow to such great proportions? An Economist in-depth report looks at the series of events in Palestinian politics resulting in virtually two governments — one viewing the other as illegitimate, and vice versa — in one.
Not until last year did the Islamists feel ready to challenge Fatah in parliamentary elections. It meant, after all, tacitly accepting the Oslo accords, which had created the PA. But Fatah was by then in such a mess that it could not even unify its lists of candidates. Using its network of cells as a grassroots campaign organisation, Hamas won nearly twice as many seats as Fatah (though a small majority of votes).
Fatah, however, never fully relinquished control. On the eve of the new parliament's swearing-in, Mr Abbas brought some of the PA's dozen-odd security forces under his own command by decree. Other forces, notionally under the new Hamas government's orders, stayed largely loyal to their Fatah commanders.
Its power curtailed, Hamas created its own force in Gaza. America, which before Hamas's election had been helping reform the PA forces as a whole, switched to beefing up Mr Abbas's presidential guard. Hamas-Fatah clashes, exacerbated by feuds between Gaza's powerful clans, grew more frequent. Attacks by militants on Gaza's border crossings prompted frequent closures of these trade lifelines by Israel, tightening the economic chokehold imposed by the West's embargo of the PA. When the militants raided Israel and kidnapped a soldier, Israel launched an offensive that killed some 400 Gazans.
After some arm-twisting from Saudi Arabia, Fatah and Hamas at last formed a unity government at a meeting in Mecca in February. But they could not agree on who would control the security forces.
And when election day dawns at last, Hamas will still be there. Many Palestinians feel that for all its faults, it was robbed of the chance to govern properly. Fatah, to become electable again, needs to end its infighting and corruption.
And we all know the story from there: more bloodshed, ceasefires, ceasefires broken, then, eventually Hamas seizes control of Gaza and Abbas sets up camp in the West Bank and forms an emergency government with the support of the West.
By ignoring the Palestinian's choice of Hamas for government, Abbas and his Fatah party as well as the outside world that shunned the democracy it had long been self-rightously pushing for have helped create this mess. Hamas was not the only militant actor: Abbas' security power grab — whether to defend his presidency or as a show of political power — was questionable to say the least. Israel and America's support of it makes them look ever worse to a Palestinian people who are, I can safely assume, sick of all this fighting.
Stubborn militancy (Hamas) and selfish politics (everyone else) have hurt an already scarred population. Whenever one side steps up — like Israel just did — the other refuses to rise alongside it and help their own people escape the trap of death and desolation that mark their land. Moreover America wanted democracy and free and fair election. That's what they got in Palestine and Hamas was elected. Abbas refused Hamas' government; America refused Hamas even though they were fairly elected in an election the US pushed (thus America refused democracy? only more hypocrisy in the eyes of many); Hamas refused peace and coexistence with Israel (in part because Israel did the same); the international community cut off essential aid to Palestine as Israel cut of money and utilities; and the Palestinian people were rejected by everyone. After all, it's the people who receive the full blow of all these poor policies and actions.