Ex-UN envoy questions int'l Hamas blockade

De Soto: peace prospects under Oslo "distant"; Admonishes Israel over "occupation".

WASHINGTON - One month after leaving his post as the UN's Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto suggested that the international demands and financial blockade of Hamas have made it harder for the party to moderate. He suggested that the bar may have been set too high for the Islamic organization. "Most serious observers of Palestinian public opinion confirm that month after month of external pressure strengthened the Palestinian Authority government," de Soto said Tuesday of the international community's barring funds to the PA since Hamas joined the government. "We need to ask ourselves whether we haven't made it somewhat more difficult for Hamas to join the mainstream." He also questioned whether the international community had erred in not accepting the Palestinian government after Hamas was elected to it. "I can't help but wonder whether it would not have been more productive for the international community to take it that the new government, which took over in February of last year, is in effect bound by previous agreements rather than... setting the bar at a height which it was known that they could not clear, at least not explicitly." After Hamas came into office, the Quartet, composed of the UN, US, EU and Russia demanded that Hamas recognize Israel, respect existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and renounce violence as a condition for the continuation of international assistance. Hamas has continued to reject these demands, and the international community has set up funding mechanisms that bypass legislators and ministries run by the party, which the EU and US consider a terrorist organization. Speaking to a symposium at the Palestine Center on "40 Years after the 1967 War: The Impact of a Prolonged Occupation," de Soto began his talk by remarking that, "Today is not a happy anniversary, not the kind of thing one wants to commemorate in a festive mood." He said the prospects for peace under the Oslo Accords now appear "distant," and noted his own inability "to help solve the underlying issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict and end the occupation of Arab territory" during his two-year term in Jerusalem with the UN dedicated to achieving those aims. He noted the Israeli need for security and discussed both sides' failure to comply with the road map peace plan, as Israel carried out a unilateral disengagement and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas teamed with Hamas in a way that "appears to skirt Palestinian obligations." He also admonished Israel on the continuing occupation of Palestinian areas. "Israel is proud of its democracy, and justifiably so," de Soto said, "but its democracy can thrive only if the occupation over another people ends."