Abbas seizes moment in interests of peace

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 June, 2007, 12:00am

The stormy division of the Palestinian factions is lamentable, but inevitable given the intransigence of Hamas on recognition of Israel. Now that the group has been isolated through its seizure of the Gaza Strip and President Mahmoud Abbas has scrapped the government of national unity and formed an emergency cabinet, the peace process can resume in earnest.

This was not possible while Hamas remained a dominant political force, despite its winning of democratic parliamentary elections last year. While the militant organisation refused to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and maintained a combative stance through attacks on the nation, any attempt to broker a two-state solution was doomed.

After weeks of fighting in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed and thousands have fled to neighbouring Arab countries, Mr Abbas seized the initiative. By naming respected economist Salam Fayyad as prime minister, outlawing the military wing of Hamas and taking emergency rule, he has ensured that foreign aid and border taxes essential for Palestinian survival will be resumed. As importantly, the peace process will be back on track.

Hamas may be isolated from the process, but this does not have to be the case. By renouncing violence and acknowledging the sovereignty of Israel, it can again be part of the political process.

Its leaders have refused this course, even though they have limited backing from Middle Eastern governments. All but Iran and Syria have realised that being within, rather than out of, the process launched as the 'road map for peace' in 2002 by the quartet of the US, European Union, UN and Russia is the most viable way forward.

Those partners of Israel and the Palestinians led by Mr Abbas are now in a strong position to convince Hamas and its supporters to change their ways. Through backing the interim Palestinian government with funding, humanitarian aid and political support, a peaceful future and a way ahead can be mapped out.

Ultimately, new elections will be the test; if Hamas retains its hard line and Palestinians again choose to back the group, peace will remain elusive for the region.