Q + A of the day

Here’s George Mitchell in Washington on Thursday, answering a question about Hamas (“the green elephant in the room”), after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced invitations to Israel and the Palestinian leadership to come to dinner on 1 September, and hold direct talks on 2 September.

In his answer, Mitchell is pretending that it is still January 2009.

Or, does Mitchell know something we don’t?

(Important background: for a year-and-a-half after its mid-June 2007  rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security forces that it believed was preparing a U.S.-backed coup in Gaza {see David Rose’s article in Vanity  Fair in April 2008}, Hamas did, repeatedly, acknowledge Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as President.  But Hamas ceased doing so in January 2009, four years after the special elections held in January 2005, following the unscheduled death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat; those special elections gave Abbas a four-year term of office.   Then, in January 2009, Abbas arranged to get his mandate extended for one additional year, based on the argument that reconciliation talks with Hamas were still dragging on, and that it would be a good idea, as well as more cost-efficient,  to hold joint presidential and legislative elections together, at the same time, all at once, in January 2010.  There were isolated arguments, coming from non-Hamas quarters, concerning the legality of this move — but no mass reaction. In October 2009, right on schedule, Abbas issued an executive decree scheduling presidential and legislative for 24 January 2010.  But then, about two weeks later, as criticism continued to rage about the Goldstone report fiasco, and about unresolved accusations of corruption among those close to Abbas, he suddenly postponed those elections indefinitely, but reassured his constituency that he would remain in office until new elections. Again, there was no mass reaction. A couple of months later, Abbas authorized the holding of local municipal elections on 17 July, but those were cancelled as well, reportedly because of objections from Fatah.)

Here is the intriguing exchange at the announcement made in Washington on Thursday:

Q (a journalist): … even in the best of all circumstances that you negotiate an agreement, how do you get around the fact that Hamas is playing a huge role in Gaza?

A (Mitchell):  “With respect to Hamas, let’s be clear.  Hamas won a legislative election. [n.b. – These were elections to a four-year term of the Palestine Legislative Council.  The elections were held, as scheduled, in January 2006, and the term of office of those parliamentarians thus expired in January 2010]  (Then, Mitchell continued:)  They acknowledge the continued executive authority of President Abbas and his team, and it is entirely appropriate that we negotiate with the executive head of that government. When Democrats regained control of the Congress in 2006, that didn’t end President Bush’s tenure as president, and others who wanted to negotiate with the United States negotiated with the legally elected and then-chief of our executive branch of government”…

OK.

Could it be that Mitchell does know something we don’t know?

More on the announcement made in Washington can be read on our sister blog here.

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