It is perhaps now an opportune moment for the international community to lift the aid embargo it imposed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas came to power in elections last year. Such a move could boost the delicate behind-the-scenes negotiations occurring both through surrogates such as the Arab League -- with its proposal in which Hamas would recognizing Israel in exchange for the return of Palestinian refugees -- and tentative “unofficial” direct Palestinian-Israeli communications.
Lifting the aid embargo would also strengthen those in the Palestinian Authority who are looking for a peaceful, mutually acceptable way out of the stalemate. Furthermore, ordinary Palestinians are the ones suffering from the embargo – not their leaders. A lifting of the embargo will help to persuade ordinary Palestinians, moderates and democrats in the Middle East, that the West is sincere. The embargo mainly boosts hard-line elements in Hamas, who uses it and any sign of tough talk from Israel as a mobilization tool and an excuse to hold on to extreme positions.
The political situation in the Middle East is now on a knife edge: the situation in Iraq has spiraled out of control, Iran is dangerously flexing its muscles -- sparking anxiety both in the Middle East and the West -- and the Israeli government appears to be paralyzed. Furthermore, it does not appear that al-Qaeda will be stopped anytime soon.
Although at first glance all of this is terribly despairing, there still is a window of opportunity, albeit it a very narrow one and one likely to shut very quickly. South Africa has rightly invited Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to visit. Sure, this may be risky, but the consequences of doing nothing or holding on to the fruitless strategy of isolating the Palestinian Authority -- which appears to be only compounding the suffering of ordinary Palestinians, alienating them further, increasing their suspicion of international solutions, and driving them towards more radical actions -- is perhaps more perilous.
The West will have to accept the election results that brought Hamas to power, even if it might not be the outcome they desired. It will have to lift the aid embargo as it does not help its cause, and now may be an opportune moment to do so.
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