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Date posted: March 12, 2009
By Arab News (Editorial)

While Hamas and Fatah negotiate on a Palestinian government of unity, party spokesmen pour cold water on their chances of success. That is not what the Palestinians want. Palestinian divisions are Israelís greatest weapon. What chance of a just settlement while Palestinian confronts Palestinian? This is a make or break point. International revulsion at Israelís murderous blitz in Gaza has fueled demands that it make the necessary concessions for a peace agreement once and for all. The Palestinians must not lose this opportunity. If they do, if Fatah and Hamas refuse to put self-interest aside and come together for their peopleís freedom and future, then they will stand condemned ó by the Palestinian people, by the Arabs, by the whole world.

There has to be a government of national unity if the Palestinians are to negotiate on terms of equality with the Israelis. But it needs to be more than Fatah and Hamas. It must include other factions, other prominent Palestinians. One particular person is Hanan Ashrawi who was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference and has been a leading spokesperson for the Palestinian people. Her presence in a unity government would add considerable muscle to the Palestiniansí position. She is crucial to winning over public opinion in the US. It is key to changing US government policy on the Middle East. Washington follows public opinion; it does not lead it. If the US media are enthusiastic about an individual or a cause, so is American public opinion. The politicians fall into line.

Because she is a woman and highly articulate, Ashrawi is listened to by Americans. Her ability to influence American opinion is unparalleled among Palestinian leaders ó but the Palestinians have failed to use her. For the past few years, she has been sidelined. It was a serious mistake. The Israelis, who are brilliant at manipulating American public opinion, loathe and fear her more than any other Palestinian figure, which is why they have tried to demonize her as an ďapologist for terrorismĒ. They understand all too well the serious threat she poses for them. They cannot afford Palestinian officials whom Americans and Europeans listen to and connect with. They want Palestinian leaders to appear belligerent and intransigent. They use that as the excuse not to talk ó and the Americans and the Europeans go along with it.

Unlike the Israelis, the Palestinians have consistently underestimated the towering importance of sophisticated international PR. They expect the injustice they have suffered will be sufficient to win the worldís support. But stating the rightness of the cause is not enough. Truth, always the first casualty in war, has been buried for 60 years by a craftier Israeli PR machine. Until the Palestinians get their own PR house in order, they will remain handicapped ó and that is where Ashrawi can help.

There is another equally compelling reason why someone like her is needed in the hoped-for unity government. The Israelis and the Americans say they will not speak to a Palestinian administration that includes Hamas. With her in government, it would be impossible to maintain that position. But the question is: Can Fatah and Hamas see the opportunity they have? Are they prepared to lay aside their differences, work together and with others for the benefit of their own people?

Or is power more important?

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Source: Arab News, 11 March. 2009
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