After the long-delayed naming of a Palestinian unity government, the U.S. and Israel announced their absolute rejection of any contact with any member of the new cabinet; even those who were not Hamas. Mideast experts expected that countries like German and Britain would follow suit. But Britain, surprisingly, has caused a crack in the façade:
Britain intends to allow diplomatic contacts with non-Hamas members of a Palestinian unity government, in contrast with an Israeli decision to shun the entire cabinet, European diplomats said on Friday.
“Britain is not going to have contact with Hamas but there are members of the government who are not Hamas and British diplomats will be able to have contact with them,” a senior diplomat briefed on the new position told Reuters.
“We will judge the national unity government on its actions and respond accordingly,” a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
“The priority now will be to see just how we can engage with the national unity government. We will be discussing that with our international partners soon and initially it would be easier to engage with those independent members of the national unity government.”
…Britain’s position is significant because of the country’s close relationship with the United States, which was expected to adopt Israel’s line and boycott the new government.
Italy, Spain and France have already made clear their discomfort with the draconian nature of the boycott arrangement and have called for more flexibility. It has seemed to many observers only a matter of time before all the international parties to the boycott, with perhaps the exception of Israel, would realize the policy was a failure. That it did not draw Hamas any closer to the political position world leaders wished it to take; and that it caused immense suffering and despair among Palestinians. Britain’s new position seems to confirm a growing momentum in that direction.
UPDATE: Reuters brings the welcome news that even the U.S. has stepped back from its absolute rejection of contact with the new Palestinian ministers:
The United States has decided to leave the door open to some contact with the proposed Palestinian finance minister even if the government he plans to join fails to recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect past peace deals, two U.S. officials said on Friday.
The desire to maintain such unofficial contacts with Salam Fayyad represents a shift in approach by the United States, which has been reluctant to deal with members of any Hamas-led government because it views the faction as a terrorist group.
The icebergs are beginning to melt arouind the polar ice caps.
Haaretz also bears the depressing news that Israel has balked at the last minute at the Egyptian-negotiated provisions for a deal that would have freed kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. The deal has been months in the offing. Abbas had promised his release before the formation of the national unity government hoping it would pave the way for ending the international boycott. One must wonder whether Olmert’s last-minute rejection of the deal might be based on cold political calculation that it would advance Palestinian political objectives to end the boycott.
The rejected deal would’ve called for the release of popular Palestinian political leader, Marwan Barghouti and other imprisoned political figures.