The National (Opinion)
June 10, 2010 - 12:00am

With all the intense scrutiny of Israel’s assault on the Freedom flotilla, yesterday’s meeting between the US president, Barack Obama, and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, will appear to many as an irrelevant sideshow.

Certainly, there must have been some level of discouragement in the Oval Office. Mr Obama has once again seen his professed commitment to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians derailed by events beyond his control. The US may point to the fact that proximity talks have survived the flotilla fiasco, but this points more to how little they mean rather than to any real hope of progress. Meanwhile, the beleaguered Mr Abbas has seen Gaza and Hamas once again overshadow his efforts to build institutions and revive the Palestinian economy in the West Bank.

Still, Mr Obama and Mr Abbas must realise that there is opportunity in all this chaos. The fallout of the flotilla attack has illustrated a fallacy propagated by Israel. Its policy has always been to refuse to deal with Hamas, yet claim that peace can still be made. The world has now learned that Israel cannot ignore Gaza and isolate Hamas if it hopes to advance peace.

International scrutiny of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians has made it easier for the Israeli blockade of Gaza to be lifted, or at least eased. Mr Obama must realise that only the US can pressure Israel in that regard.

If Israel is responsive, both Mr Obama and Mr Abbas will be able to claim credit and emerge as victors. If not, the rest of the world and the Palestinians themselves will rightly question the purpose and merits of a peace process that cannot even marginally alleviate the situation.

This is why Palestinian negotiators must manoeuvre adroitly. They have an opportunity to disprove Israel’s accusations that Palestinians are the sole barrier to peace. Israel appears erratic and belligerent at the moment. But rather than basking in the global surge of sympathy, the Palestinians must find ways to translate this newfound support into diplomatic gains.

To do this, the Palestinians must resurrect reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas. Nothing has done more harm to the Palestinian cause than their infighting over the past five years. Mr Abbas, whose popularity varies in direct correlation with Israel’s intransigence, has recently made overtures to Hamas. The Palestinian people wait to see if this will result in something concrete.

The Palestinians should also leverage Turkey’s ire for their benefit. Rarely have they had an advocate of such credibility. Souring Turkish-Israeli relations are a momentary impediment – both Turkey and the US will try to find ways to mend the relationship with Israel. But with some nudging from the Palestinians, they can also help build a stronger foundation for peace.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017