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(photo credit: Ahmad K. Gharabli)
Such a breathtaking week of high-powered diplomacy hasn't been seen around here since the heady days of Oslo. First it's former British prime minister and now super-envoy Tony Blair and then not one, but two Arab foreign ministers, and - wait for it - they're not only here representing their countries but the entire Arab League.
Yes, that anti-Israel organization which for decades tried to suffocate Israel and its nascent economy through the ruthless blackmail of the Arab boycott. They made the rounds: Shimon Peres, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and even Binyamin Netanyahu and the Knesset, all smiles and expansive press conferences. But all this brave new Middle East faÃ§ade is hiding the bare fact that no one has any idea how to get out of the current impasse and above all, at no time is anyone mentioning the H-word. Hamas has all of a sudden disappeared.
There seemed to be a gentleman's agreement that no one ask hard questions. Instead there was a lot of optimistic talk about economic development plans, a window that had opened to the wind of opportunity, the Arab initiative and bilateral talks. How they expected a chronically weak Israeli administration whose leader is plotting a survival course between his senior ministers, who are just waiting for the moment to topple him, and a Palestinian chairman who has lost half his kingdom to Hamas and has a rather shaky grasp on the second half, to say the least.
Meanwhile, the official policy is not to talk to Hamas until it recognizes Israel and formally renounces violence, but for some strange reason, nobody seems very eager to talk about it. Since it's impossible to envisage even an interim solution to the conflict that doesn't include Gaza, aren't all these diplomatic maneuverings that don't include somehow tackling the Hamas problem simply an exercise in wishful thinking? Or does someone have a winning card tucked up his sleeve?
One seasoned British reporter smiled wryly as the cavalcade made its short way from the Foreign Ministry to the Prime Minister's Office. A veteran of another decades-long conflict, he had little doubt what was going on behind the scenes. Blair is officially beholden to the Quartet's position of leaving Hamas out for the time being and he won't do anything to jeopardize his good relations with the Israeli government, but this observer is convinced that while he's smiling at the president's mansion, feelers are already going out to Gaza.
It was the same thing in Northern Ireland, where long before the talks between the British and the IRA leadership came out in the open and culminated in the Good Friday Agreement and the Republican's disarmament and entry into the power-sharing process, Blair, and even the prime ministers before, him were talking quietly to what was then the terrorist leadership, at a time when British TV channels were forbidden by the government to broadcast interviews with IRA leaders.
That was the way Blair and his government finally brought peace to the troubled province, always carry on talking quietly to all sides until they can finally be forced into the same room with each other. It doesn't look like a stretch of imagination to believe that this is also his preferred tactic here.
Yes, Belfast isn't Gaza and Ramallah isn't Londonderry, as we've been constantly reminded over the last few weeks ever since Blair left Downing Street and assumed his new responsibilities, but he seems to believe that the same peacemaking tactics can ultimately succeed anywhere.