Deborah Orr: We should start talking to Hamas, but will we ever understand them?

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The Independent Online

More distressing scenes from Gaza, with yesterday's Israeli tank incursion seemingly planned with the intention of bulldozing a mosque. Such a provocative act is hardly a springy step on the road to peace and reconciliation, so the sight of massed women taking non-violent defensive action to stop the tanks in their tracks and being killed for it is appalling.

Yet the crowds of women, mostly burqa'd to the hilt, are themselves a graphic illustration of just how much more polarised the Israeli-Palestinian situation has become. It used to be, in the secular non-state of Palestine, that you could spot an isolated village under the sway of Hamas because the women were wearing headscarves. Now women are taking up the full militant rig of Political Islam in a display of ardent support for Hamas that has been similarly displayed at the ballot box.

Palestine, for the first time since the creation of Israel - and long before - now has a government with a substantial Islamic component. Hamas, despite all indications to the contrary, is under the impression that its democratic credentials ensure that eventually the Israeli government, and the rest of the West, will have to engage with it.

Should we talk to Hamas? In London the opportunity arose this week with a small delegation of senior representatives visiting the capital in a modest attempt to break the diplomatic deadlock. Having listened to what they have to say, I have to report that hanging out with terrorist organisations fulfils all of its promise in terms of frustration.

The two men, Ahmad Yousef, senior adviser to the Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, and Said Adu Musameh, a former Hamas leader who is now a member of the national assembly, no doubt have influence in Palestine. Their proposal is for a 10-year period of peaceful co-existence, during which, they suggest, the Palestinian people can be persuaded to re-examine the powerful mythology of victimhood that characterises the national identity, in return for an end to the occupation.

The vexed question of recognition of Israel's right to exist, they imply, can be tackled during this period, and positively. For now, though, Hamas, will concede only that it recognises the "reality of Israel's existence", which is nothing more than a statement of the obvious.

Their certainty that they can deliver an extended period of peaceful co-existence is probably sincere. The idea of Hudna, or truce, is deeply imbedded in Islamic history. Islamicists take the concept very seriously, and point out that no Hudna has been broken for 800 years.

Hamas itself has for some time desisted from using suicide bombers, and insists that such groups as Islamic Jihad can be controlled by Hudna as well. Though when asked why Hamas didn't undertake to stop rockets into Israel as well, Yousef replied rather disingenuously that there was no point in stopping them, because they were merely symbolic. Since the rockets remain a useful stick to beat Palestine with, on the contrary, mere symbolism logically dictates that rocket attacks should stop forthwith.

But the real trouble is that this proposed ceasefire can be guaranteed only under what Ahmad Yousef calls "Islamic principles and with an Islamic strategy". What this delegation seems quite unable to understand is that an intellectual concession such as this is likely to remain for ever unpalatable to Israel, as it is to all Westerners who fear and distrust political Islam. Hamas should be engaged with by the West, if we really believe in our democratic ideals. But it is bleakly difficult to see just where the lingua franca might emerge.

A judge in trouble - again

Danielle Lloyd has been sacked as Miss Great Britain for bringing the beauty pageant into "disrepute". Which is a little odd because one has vague memories of the entire beauty pageant industry having been brought into disrepute something like 25 years ago. Not in the eyes of pageant chairman, Robert de Keyser, though. "Like Caesar's wife," he declared with grand inelegance, "the judging of Miss Great Britain must be above suspicion."

Except that Ms Lloyd wasn't a judge, or even a wife. Instead, it is alleged, she was already the girlfriend of West Ham and England footballer Teddy Sheringham at the time when he was supposed to be judging her. Obviously the 22-year-old wouldn't be entirely blameless here. But surely he's the one who really ought to have known better.

Even so, it's hard to get too indignant. It's not as if this crime is in the long-standing pageant tradition of seedy shags-for-seedy votes. What better tribute could Teddy have made to Danielle than crowning her a queen among queens? Voting with your feet is a familiar concept. But declaring your preference with your little heart and soul? Dear old Teddy, he votes like he plays.

Shoot, kill - and eventually stop?

I'm not a fan on the off-the-record journalistic briefing, but make an exception for senior policemen. Why? Because nothing beats leaping into a taxi and yelling: "Scotland Yard please!" This week's excursion included the weird experience of reaching the hallowed portals, explaining I had an appointment with Sir Ian Blair, and being patronisingly asked if perhaps I merely had an assignation with a much less grand Ian Blair.

Loftily declaring that it was indeed the Commissioner himself who wished to see me, I flashed my ID, only to be told I couldn't enter because it didn't prove that I was a journalist. Flicking open that day's paper I pointed out my my scribal offering. No dice. After 10 minutes of unseemly bickering I'd persuaded the boys in blue to call the Commissioner and see what he had to say on the matter. Sorted. Suffice to say that the man is urbane, intelligent, persuasive, informed, marvellously soothing, and knows how to match flamboyant shirts and ties that shouldn't work but do.

I didn't quite wander blinking into the sunlight, but I didn't entirely come to my senses until faced with the news that that one of the two marksmen who pumped Jean Charles de Menezes full of bullets had managed to kill someone else. It hadn't even occurred to me to ask if such an unfortunate eventuality might even be theoretically possible. Because surely it couldn't be.

The answer to the question is couched in terms of motivation. Police marksmen are volunteers, and to stand one of them down after exoneration in a fatal incident is considered likely to demotivate other volunteers. Further, if a limit is imposed on how often an officer can shoot and kill, then an officer in the last-chance saloon might hesitate in a fatal manner. Which leaves one simply hoping that police officers might just get fed up with killing people and move on after a couple. Please.

* Wednesday's Independent delivered a ghastly moment of self-awareness, in the form of a feature detailing a number of the sad things done by idiotic middle-aged people trapped in a state of perpetual childhood. Arctic Monkeys on iPod? Check. Double-decaf with half-fat soya? Check. Occasional peeks at Big Brother? Check. Holidays in Ibiza? Check. Wheat intolerance? Not quite, but fearful of bread-bloat. Check. Clothes from Urban Outfitters? Check. Avid Irvine Welsh reader? Check. Still pigging on junk food? Check (but hold that bun). All I can say in my defence is that I did pass one of the being grown-up tests. I never, ever say: "That's so mad ... I'm going to put it on my blog this minute." I don't have to, do I, for the obvious reason that I can whack my oh-so fascinating moments of narcissistic navel-gazing straight into this very newspaper column. Check.

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