Thursday, 5 February 2009


It was a wasted opportunity. The Palestinian president addressed the European Parliament, reminded us of the military occupation of his land, of the humiliations of his people at the hands of Israelis, and of the suffering of people in Gaza. All true enough but, so low is the interest threshold of politicians, all too routine and familiar a mantra.

He thanked the EU for the payments it makes to the Palestinian authority but urged us to play a more political role - a good point. He called for support to be given to the Arab peace plan that will give Israel peace and recognition in return for a two state solution. But he could have said so much more.

Abbas could have confronted the EU with its double standards, its failure to take any action at all to support our criticism of Israel and its slavish following of American leadership - that would have shaken us up. He could have made a single mention of Hamas. He could have said what sacrifices he will make to bring Palestinians together.

In a brief meeting later I told him he had been too nice to us. Leila Shahid, the EU 'ambassador', came up to me later and said "you know his style. He is polite and nice to everyone." I do know, but I don't see evidence that it accomplishes very much. In private, amongst Palestinians, I suspect he also takes a very tribalist view in favour of Fatah that does nothing to enhance prospects of Palestinian unity.

Still, next week Netanyahu will likely emerge as the winner in the Israeli elections, backed by the outright racist Lieberman. Resolutely refusing to give up any of the land stolen from Palestinians they don't look like proving the best partnership to win friends in a world outraged by Israeli killings in Gaza. Maybe being 'nice' will prove an advantage with the likes of George Mitchell.

Off to Palestine myself on Tuesday evening.

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