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British minister endorses election trap to de-legitimize Hamas

The announcement by the Palestine Liberation Organisation that it will hold national elections by September has prompted Britain's Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, to say that Britain "welcomes the announcement" and that "we, together with our European partners stand ready to support the electoral process".

The PLO actually has no legal mandate to call the elections in Palestine; that right rests with the Palestinian Legislative Council, but the PLO/Palestinian Authority and the Israelis have rendered the PLC virtually irrelevant by imprisoning the elected legislators. That inconvenient reality hasn't deterred Mr. Burt from adding, "I am disappointed that Hamas has rejected these already along delayed elections. This reinforces the perception that Hamas is an organisation which can only maintain its grip on ordinary Gazans through repression and isolation."

In making this statement, Alistair Burt displays his lack of understanding of this important issue; either that or his civil servants haven't briefed him properly. Whichever it is, in order to shore up an increasingly discredited Palestinian Authority in Ramallah the minister has ignored the reason given by Hamas for not taking part in an election, namely that it will be impossible to hold free and fair elections under the combined handicap of the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and siege of the Gaza Strip, and the continued lack of national reconciliation between Fatah (which controls the PLO) and Hamas. Mr. Burt also forgets that Hamas was elected by "ordinary Gazans" and ordinary West Bankers as well, come to that. In contrast, Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister enthroned by Israel and western democracies (what an irony), including Britain, was appointed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas even though his party received only 3% of the votes in the last election in 2006, which was won by Hamas.

Such economy with the truth by a Minister of State indicates yet again that the Conservative-led Coalition government in the UK is neither balanced nor just when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mr. Burt and his colleagues in government and at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office know full well that the Palestinian Authority security forces to which Britain has given millions in "development aid" have been guilty of the arrest, detention without trial and torture of Fatah's political opponents, especially members or sympathisers of Hamas, in the West Bank. By what stretch of the imagination does the minister think that an election held while that state of affairs is allowed to fester could ever be free and fair? Throw the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into the equation and one is predisposed to think that Alistair Burt might also believe in fairies.

In a statement which echoes his party leader's attempts to play both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide even though it is common knowledge that the Conservative members of the Cabinet are very much pro-Israel, Mr. Burt pays lip-service to "the establishment of a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state", while saying or doing virtually nothing to persuade Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory, stop building colony-settlements and end the collective punishment of the people of Gaza. Friends sometimes have to tell each other unpalatable truths for the common good. If Alistair Burt and the government he represents is sincere about wanting Palestinians to live "in peace and security alongside a safe and secure Israel", they should stop supporting the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian Authority institutions which help to perpetuate it, and explain to their Israeli friends why. The conditions might then be right for a free and fair Palestinian election in which all factions feel able to participate.

Commentary & AnalysisEurope & RussiaIsraelMiddle EastPalestineUK
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