Miliband on Middle East peace: 'There needs to be a plan, not a process'

Britain's foreign secretary backs talks with Hamas. Egypt is speaking to Hamas 'on behalf of the whole world'. 'That's the right thing to do and I think we should let the Egyptians take this forward.' Pakistan is plunged into fresh turmoil after the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is disqualified from office, provoking a political crisis even as the country struggles to challenge Islamist extremism.

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British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Wednesday that talking to Hamas was "the right thing to do" but Egypt and other parties were best placed to do it. "In an interview with Reuters in Cairo, where Hamas and the rival Fatah group prepared on Wednesday for a national dialogue on a new Palestinian government, Miliband said Egypt was acting on behalf of the whole world in its dealings with Hamas." He said: "Egypt has been nominated ... to speak to Hamas on behalf of the Arab League but actually on behalf of the whole world. Others speak to Hamas. That's the right thing to do and I think we should let the Egyptians take this forward." Reporting for The National, Omar Karmi said: "Fatah and Hamas leaders may be preparing for what appears to be serious reconciliation efforts in Cairo, but the two estranged Palestinian factions have a lot of ground to cover to establish any semblance of mutual trust. "There are five main issues that will be discussed in the reconciliation talks, including the shape of a unity government, security sector reform, the political agenda vis-à-vis Israel, reform of the PLO and setting a date for elections. "On all of these, there are large differences between the two movements, but perhaps the greatest obstacle is convincing the rank and file in both organisations that unity is possible with the other." The Financial Times noted: "In a sign that Fatah and Hamas are taking this latest reconciliation effort seriously, the groups despatched some of their most senior leaders to Egypt, including Ahmed Qurei, a former Fatah prime minister, and Mahmoud Zahar, a former Hamas interior minister. "Ending the damaging split between the two groups and reuniting the Palestinian territories under one government would remove one of the biggest obstacles to greater stability in the region. "Western diplomats say it will be almost impossible to rebuild the war-ravaged Gaza Strip as long as Hamas remains the sole authority in the territory. This reflects Israel's insistence that it will not open its border crossings into Gaza to let in cement and other building materials while Hamas controls the strip. "Healing the intra-Palestinian rift is widely seen as a crucial factor for restarting peace talks with Israel. Analysts argue that the most recent negotiations between the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority and Israel failed not least because the PA was in control of only one half of a future Palestinian state." The National reported: "Hamas needs international recognition more than ever, if for no other reason than to stave off a potential repeat of Israel's offensive. Such recognition, at least in the short term, can only come about through unity with Fatah. "Thus Hamas spokespeople have in recent weeks been careful to refer to Mr Abbas as president, even after having previously threatened to withdraw their recognition of his presidency. "Moreover, while the immediate priority for Hamas remains a ceasefire agreement with Israel, national unity is firmly established as the main priority in the medium term." Writing in The Times, 14 former foreign ministers and peace negotiators said the three-year policy under which Hamas has been ostracized by the international community had backfired and needed to be changed. "If every crisis is also an opportunity, it is now time to rethink the strategy for achieving peace in the Middle East. The latest and bloodiest conflict between Israel and Hamas has demonstrated that the policy of isolating Hamas cannot bring about stability. As former peace negotiators, we believe it is of vital importance to abandon the failed policy of isolation and to involve Hamas in the political process. "An Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement without Hamas will not be possible. As the Israeli general and statesman Moshe Dayan said: 'If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.' There can be no meaningful peace process that involves negotiating with the representative of one part of the Palestinians while simultaneously trying to destroy the other. "Whether we like it or not, Hamas will not go away. Since its victory in democratic elections in 2006, Hamas has sustained its support in Palestinian society despite attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts and military incursions. This approach is not working; a new strategy must be found. Yes, Hamas must recognise Israel as part of a permanent solution, but it is a diplomatic process and not ostracisation that will lead them there. The Quartet conditions imposed on Hamas set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations. The most important first step is for Hamas to halt all violence as a precondition for their inclusion in the process. Ending their isolation will in turn help in reconciling the Palestinian national movement, a vital condition for meaningful negotiations with Israel."

"Pakistan was plunged into fresh turmoil yesterday after the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from office, provoking a political crisis even as the country struggles to challenge Islamist extremism," The Guardian reported. "The supreme court ruling against Sharif promises an all-out confrontation between his party and the government in Islamabad, which he blamed for the verdict, and threatens to paralyse governance just as Islamabad is coming under pressure from the west to act against militants. "Angry demonstrations broke out across Punjab province, which had been ruled by Sharif's party, with tyres set ablaze and posters of President Asif Zardari torn down and burned. The stock market fell by 5 per cent as investors panicked at the political instability that will now follow." Dawn said: "Pakistan can ill afford the political uncertainty. The economy is only afloat thanks to an International Monetary Fund loan, militants threaten the security of the nuclear-armed state, the war on terrorism in unpopular, and anti-American sentiment is rife. "A showdown between Zardari and two-time prime minister Sharif has been brewing since they forced former army chief Pervez Musharraf to quit as president last August. "The court's decisions take place a week ahead of elections for the upper house and the Senate. " 'The political impact of this decision will be extremely negative and if not handled properly this can undermine prospects of democracy in Pakistan,' Hasan Askari Rizvi, political analyst based in Lahore, said. " 'This virtually amounts to excluding one of the major political parties from the political process.' " An editorial in The News said: "One year after democracy was ushered in and stood before a wondering public, its battered body has been wheeled into the hospital, bleeding from any number of wounds. We are back in the territory we were in, in the early nineties, and with many of the same figures on stage. It seems that we have a fatal tendency to repeat, and then repeat ad infinitum, the mistakes that have forever bedevilled us. The hope that was there a year ago has faded; tyres are burning and roads are clogged with protesters, some peaceful but others not, and the potential for significant civil disruption is lurking close by. Salmaan Taseer has been installed as Punjab chief executive and the deadly dance of Pakistani politics waltzes towards a clouded horizon. RIP, democracy. It was good while it lasted."