Leading article: Blair's visit to Gaza opens a door that must not be closed

Compromises are essential if progress towards peace is to be made

Related Topics

Tony Blair's first visit to Gaza yesterday as envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, comprising the EU, America, the UN and Russia, could not have been more timely. Weeks after the end of Israel's 22-day military offensive in Gaza, the work of reconstruction is being held up by two separate, albeit related, issues.

One is the unwillingness of the two states adjoining Gaza – Israel and Egypt – to open their borders freely to the passage of aid convoys. This is partly because they fear that deliveries of such innocent-sounding materials as sand and concrete might not always be used to rebuild houses but could be used to build weapons and bombs; also because Israel and Egypt are loath to do anything that suggests even a tacit recognition of the Hamas-run authority in Gaza.

At the same time, Arab states' financial donations towards reconstruction are being held up by the insistence of the internationally recognised Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on the West Bank that any money for Gaza should be channelled through them.

It is not easy to square this circle, one of the results of which is to leave families in Gaza camping in the rubble of their ruined homes. Indeed, the wish to rebuild Gaza, but not give Hamas the legitimacy it seeks in the process, is a dilemma that will be in the fronts of the minds of the representatives of all the donor states attending the aid conference on Gaza which opens today in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt.

The Europeans, while maintaining their official boycott of Hamas, will nevertheless want to see more pressure being applied on Israel's government, at the very least over the question of allowing greater access for humanitarian aid deliveries.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, making her first trip to the region as Barack Obama's Secretary of State, will be offering a large cheque for Gaza's reconstruction – up to $900m (£629m), reportedly. This is almost one-third of what the Palestinian Authority estimates is the total "bill" for the Gaza conflict. But at the same time, she has made it clear that the handover of this money is conditional on Hamas renouncing terrorism and recognising Israel.

While none of these points is easy to square with any of the others, the mere fact that Mr Blair has gone to Gaza, hot on the heels of other key Western leaders including Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, shows that everyone accepts that progress cannot be made towards a comprehensive Middle East peace by pretending Gaza – or its Hamas government – do not exist.

In fact, the parameters of the Blair trip illustrate the dilemmas Western leaders encounter when trying to draw a line between a principled rejection of Hamas's Islamist ideology and sensible recognition of facts on the ground. While Mr Blair was careful to meet no Hamas officials on his visit, it is equally clear that his team must have arranged the trip with officials from Gaza's Hamas government.

Such compromises should not be seen as messy or hypocritical but as necessary and pragmatic elements of a new more nuanced policy.

So far, the West's approach of totally isolating Hamas has failed totally to weaken the Islamists' grip on Gaza. If Mr Blair's trip, and those of others, signals the start of a more direct and active involvement on the part of the West in the affairs of the Gaza Strip, that can only be to the good.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

SQL Developer - Permanent - London - Up to £50k

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum 23 days holiday plus Pension scheme: Clearwater Peop...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Read Next

We need to talk about homophobia in the police

George Gillett

i Editor's letter: Summer holidays are here... so what to do with the children?

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn