Loory: The Israeli government under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Bush Administration are trying to turn the violence and the split between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories into another opportunity to bring a settlement between Israel and the Arab state. Egyptian President Hozni Mubarak has called a summit meeting to take place between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Sharm el-Sheikh on the Egyptian sea coast. President Bush is trying to convince British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who leaves office next week, to take on a new role as the chief envoy of the so-called Quartet — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — in trying to settle the differences in the Middle East. Bush and Olmert have given their support to Abbas, the Fatah leader, in his struggle with Hamas, the militant Arab faction that has taken over Gaza and denies Israel’s right to exist. Bush and Olmert have called Abbas the leader of all Palestinians, but Fatah governs only the West Bank and not Gaza where one and a half million Arabs live. Fatah’s weaknesses brought Hamas a huge election victory two years ago that gave it control of the Palestinian Authority Parliament. Are Bush and Olmert correct in dealing with Abbas to create a West Bank state that would receive massive aid if it reached an agreement with Israel? Abbas does not appear to be a leader who can bring the Palestinian Arabs together and really put Hamas in its place. Will Western and Israeli support be helpful or harmful to Abbas?
Othman Mohammed, founder and editor-in-chief, Palestine Times, Ramallah, West Bank, Palestinian Territories: People realize there will be weak moments but they also realize Abbas will emerge as a strong leader since he has public support. When you’re talking about donors’ money coming in and support from the Western states, they will take it in a positive way. The last 14 months have taken a toll on the people and the economy. It is very unfortunate that it’s becoming more and more a money issue in terms of people getting on with their lives. It’s not just political.
Loory: Is Blair ready to take on a new job?
Ian Black, Middle East editor, The Guardian, London, United Kingdom: Blair has always been interested in the Middle East, and he has a certain amount of experience in trying to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Having said that, it’s not clear whether he will be welcomed by everybody involved or whether he has any real chance of success. If Blair is to be a special envoy of the Quartet, they’re going to have to have a pretty good idea of how they’re going to move ahead at this difficult moment.
Loory: Teachers’ and journalists’ unions have expressed a lot of anti-Israeli sentiment in the United Kingdom. Would that have any impact on Blair becoming a special envoy?
Uri Dromi, director of international outreach, Israel Democracy Institute, Jerusalem, Israel: The anti-Israeli sentiment isn’t going to affect Blair. It’s going to be a glorious waste of time. People before Blair tried a lot of good will, tried to impose on the people something which the people didn’t endorse. The only peace process which has any chance of success is one which comes genuinely from the people involved, with all due respect to Blair’s capabilities.
Loory: Will the Quartet and the initiative from Bush be a glorious waste of time?
Dion Nissenbaum, Jerusalem bureau chief, McClatchy Newspapers, Jerusalem, Israel: The West-Bank-first strategy is not going to be very successful because Hamas continues to control Gaza. Attempts to isolate Gaza will fail because the border with Egypt and the smuggling tunnels will remain open, and Hamas will be able to continue getting weapons. Trying to squeeze the West Bank and Gaza will obviously increase the problems, frustration and division there. Compounding that, the Bush administration is in its final months and has lost a lot of its power and respect in this region. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s efforts have fallen short at almost every turn. When the secretary of state is still working on basic issues and trying to establish trust, it’s difficult to see how anybody is going to be able move ahead and look at the larger issues.
Jarrett Blanc, international affairs fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C.: Regardless of who the envoy is, if the strategy is wrong then it’s impossible to imagine moving forward. Attempting to weaken Hamas has failed time and time again. It failed when Fatah tried to do it as a police action in the 1990s, and it failed when Israel tried to do it militarily in the early part of this millennium. Instead, the strategy should be to recognize that any improvement for Israelis and Palestinians is going to require support from Hamas. That probably limits the horizon of what can be achieved, but if one accepts that limited horizon there probably are some fruits to be taken.
Loory: How can you support Hamas when one of its principles is that Israel has no right to exist?
Blanc: I’m not in favor of supporting Hamas. I’m in favor of recognizing Hamas’ power. It’s a power they’ve had and nurtured since the 1990s that has military, political and social service roots. It’s a question of recognizing that they do have a seat at the table and then trying to come to some kind of accommodation that may be a bit better for everybody involved.
Loory: Marwan Barghouti has been in an Israeli jail for five years. A poll done in the West Bank said Barghouti pretty easily would be elected prime minister of the West Bank if he had the opportunity. Is there any possibility that his release could be effective?
Mohammed: His release would be very effective because there is very good support in the streets of Palestine. He is somebody that people trust and look up to.
Loory: Is there any way to have reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah?
Dromi: It’s time to really decide what kind of political entity the Palestinians want for themselves. Hamas was elected in a democratic election but the question is, Can you run for election when you are calling for the destruction of the state of Israel? When the dust settles, the Palestinians will have to stop blaming Israel and others for their faults and look in the mirror and ask themselves, “What can we do in order to move toward reconciliation in Israel?”
Loory: If there is some way of turning the tragedy of the Gaza takeover to the benefit of the Middle East, we certainly did not hear it from anybody today, and we did not hear any consensus on what should be done.
Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students John Amick, Devin Benton, Hyun-jin Seo and Catherine Wolf.