Monday, January 30, 2006

Annan Sets Right Tone

The shocking election results in Palestine have left the world community in a precarious position. On the one hand, it is hard for anyone to argue against a free, democratic expression. However, accepting Hamas as legitimate would infuriate the Israelis and give mixed signals on the notion of terrorism.

The American government, in its typical diplomatically challenged way has essentially offered sanctions and Palestinian marginalization. The overly combative tone of the Bush administration fails to look at the root causes and instead perpetuates alienation. Rather than engage, work towards solutions, the narrow minded foreign policy of the Bush administration works in the simplistic world of black and white.

Enter Kofi Annan, who strikes the necessary balance to allow the possibility of progress. Expressing the concerns and problems, while charting a course that offers potential, as opposed to complete cessation of dialogue that only exasperates:

The group's statement, read by Mr Annan after a meeting in London, said: "All members of the future Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap."

It said future aid would be reviewed in reference to these demands, but did not threaten to cut it in the short term.

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent, James Robbins, said the words were chosen with care. They did not demand a renunciation of violence or immediate recognition of Israel, but a commitment to these things in the future.

Annan's demands aren't particularly different from that of the Americans, but the tone is decidedly more helpful. Aid is not immediately cutoff, but offered as a carrot to force Hamas to move forward. This diplomatic tactic was first used with Arafat to get the PLO to recognize Israel and forgo terrorism. Isn't it remarkable that an organization like the PLO, once seen as a pariah, has now transformed itself into a decidedly moderate organization. This evolution was a byproduct of diplomacy, engagement and a desire to understand the dynamics of the Palestinian predicament.

Hamas presents several unique challenges, but Annan is right to not dismiss their victory out of hand. Ironic, that the Bush administration is outraged, when in fact their isolation, marginalization and outright attempts to embarrass Arafat lead to a power vacuum in Palestine, which Hamas quickly filled(this doesn't absolve the Palestinian Authority for years of mismanagement, corruption and ineffective government).

If Hamas is completely ignored, and the Palestinian people suffer as a result, extremism will not wane, but find more fuel through the perceived slights. There is no choice but to engage, despite the pitfalls, because the alternative is much more dangerous. Allow Hamas some breathing room, see how they respond and then act accordingly. The world community has leverage, which can be used to force Hamas to compromise. If these overtures fail, no one could argue against a hard line. The knee jerk, American propensity for confrontation serves no one and displays a complete lack of vision. Hopefully, Annan's voice can be heard because it offers some way out of this mess.

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