Leading article: The Middle East starts to feel the Obama effect

The new US President’s overtures are eliciting a promising response

Share
Related Topics

Sooner or later it had to happen: someone had to start talking to Hamas. Today we report that a back channel already exists. French parliamentarians have met the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, with Syria as the go-between. MPs from other European countries, including Britain, have met lower-level Hamas representatives since the start of the year. This makes perfect sense. It is the way all pariah groups or states are enticed in from the cold. Negotiations begin unofficially, through third parties and with the necessary element of deniability.

Hamas, it can be argued, should never have found itself in the pariah category. It was encouraged to take part in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, only to be cold-shouldered by the United States, then by Israel and the European Union, when it won. That was a mistake.

There are grounds on which Hamas should have been banned from participating: its refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist. Once it had been admitted to the electoral process, and the voting had been deemed reasonably free and fair, the result had to be respected. This failure is responsible for much that came next, and helped push Hamas back to extremism.

Almost everything about the isolation of Hamas has proved counter-productive. The division of the Palestinians between the Fatah-governed West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza further complicated the already limping Middle East peace process. The Hamas government’s failure to prevent rocket attacks from Gaza precipitated Israel’s invasion. With no tangible return from signing up to democracy, Hamas had no reason to modify its stance on Israel, or anything else.

If a serious European effort is being made to explore a formal opening to Hamas, that is to be encouraged. If, as is possible, such overtures have the blessing of the United States, that is even better. And if, as other signals suggest, a tentative unclenching of fists – to quote Barack Obama – is taking place across the region in response to his extended hand, then more is in flux, in a positive way, than for a very long time.

After an initially chilly dismissal, President Ahmadinejad of Iran expressed a willingness to talk to the United States, on certain conditions. What is more, he did so as publicly as he could, at a rally to mark the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. In recent days, the Syrian President, too, has spoken optimistically about improved relations with the US.

A high-level congressional delegation is due in Damascus this week, and a new US ambassador is expected to be named shortly – the first since Washington downgraded relations in 2005. In hailing a possible improvement in relations, President Assad and senior officials have emphasised that Syria is key to any Middle East peace. Damascus has also made known that General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, would be welcome in Syria to discuss the situation in Iraq – a proposal that President Bush had vetoed.

With so much, it seems, suddenly in play, it is unfortunate that Israel should be tied up in the aftermath of another inconclusive election. What happens next is likely to depend on the complexion of the new Israeli government and its willingness to adapt to the fresh mood. But it need not depend on Israel alone. With the United States, the European Union, Iran, Syria and Hamas all showing an interest in talking, there could be an opportunity here for a fresh beginning. It is an opportunity that should on no account be passed up.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most