Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Movement in Palestine

Yesterday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas reached a deal with Hamas for a unity government, in which the Hamas government would resign and be replaced by a mixture of Hamas and Fatah representatives, as well as representatives from various splinter groups.

Most important from the Palestinian viewpoint was the prospect that such a move would mean a resumption of the aid it relies on to pay its bills, aid that was suspended following Hamas' ascent to power. That hope appears to have been fulfilled, as the EU said it would consider resuming aid.

More important to the rest of us, however, is that as part of the agreement Hamas gave Abbas full authority to resume peace negotiations with Israel.

It remains to be seen whether all this talk will result in actual change on the ground. "Peace negotiations" are not the same thing as "peace agreement", and it's an open question whether the more militant Palestinian groups -- or even the military wing of Hamas -- will accept and abide by any such deal. Expect at least a couple of attacks aimed at disrupting the talks if they appear likely to bear fruit.

But Hamas sanctioning negotiations with Israel is a pretty big step. It appears that in this case the economic embargo worked, forcing Hamas to choose between militant purity and seeing to the needs of the Palestinian people. To their credit, they have (at least for now) chosen the latter.

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