Friday, 13 February 2009


The debating chamber of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City is full of light. But then it would be, one wall is completely missing - the place has been devastated by Israeli shells.

We meet instead in a marquee in the compound grounds, 6 of us and 20 PLC members (two of them women), all of them I think elected as representatives for Change and Reform (Hamas). The only government member is the Minister for Justice who arrives late.

The primary purpose of our visit to Palestine is to explore the prospects for reforming a government of national unity. Prime Minister Fayyad in Ramallah exuded positive thoughts that were encouraging. This meeting has less substance. For one thing there are too many people present, and they all want to denounce the Israelis, which is not unreasonable in the circumstances but pointless given our known sympathies. After an hour our chairman tries to steer the subject towards specifics. Many leave at this point though whether because of the time or the agenda is not clear.

Those who remain emphasise the need for unity, but when we ask for details of what might stand in the way of this there is an undercurrent that suggests we are not being told things that are difficult or may be unwelcome. A member suggests that President Abbas is working to an agenda dictated by Israel and the Americans that requires the exclusion of Hamas people under any circumstances. She may be right.

In the evening, at the Commodore Hotel, we meet with an even bigger group of people (one woman) representing the PLO and non-Hamas parties. This is uninspiring to say the least. The same understandable mantra about Israel's evil ways and appalling behaviour is repeated, but there are no new ideas for Palestinian initiatives to seize the agenda, and when we eventually bring the subject around to unity I think the unwritten agenda was again present and the body language shifty.

All very discouraging. It is to hoped that those who meet in Cairo from Feb 22 will have the vision to take the bigger picture into account, and remember that George Mitchell will have enough to do without reconciling Palestinian divisions.

Best hope at present looks like a government of technocrats. But trying to take the politics out of politics can surely only be temporary measure.

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