Amo, Hamas, Amat


Actual high-level diplomacy in the Middle East — who woulda thunk the Bush regime was capable of such a thing? Yet there was Condoleezza Rice yesterday, officially breaking the ice with Hamas.

Americans remain flooded by news of the Virginia Tech massacre — a dump of coverage that saved beleaguered faux banker Paul Wolfowitz from continued widely publicized embarrassments, such as the Government Accountability Project’s scoop that Wolfie’s ex-flunky Doug Feith ordered a Defense contractor back in 2003 to hire Wolfie’s gal pal, Shaha Ali Riza, for an Iraq project.

Meanwhile, Rice flashed her gums, instead of the War Department’s guns, to make a diplomatic point that could help slow down the Palestinian-Israeli death dance that used to feature such depressing scenes as joint appearances by doubleplusunpeaceniks Ariel Sharon and Dick Cheney.

In an unannounced — but not unplanned — move, the Secretary of State stopped by an April 17 meeting at the State Department between one of her assistants, David Welch, and Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad to shake hands with Fayyad.

As usual, the New York Times got scooped, running only wire accounts. However, the L.A. Times and Washington Post got it. The Virginia Tech massacre did shove the Post piece all the way back to A19 in the Post‘s print edition. But it’s worth reading (thank you, U.S. warmongers, for the Internet) because until now, high-level U.S. officials had been careful to shun all members of the Palestinian government, even Fayyad, who’s regarded as a smart moderate and who worked for years in the U.S. at the World Bank’s International Monetary Fund.

A U.S.-led boycott on the transfer of international funds has crippled the new Palestinian government, but Rice’s gesture toward Fayyad brought hope of a thaw.

Fayyad recognized the irony, as the Post‘s Glenn Kessler writes:

Since joining the Palestinian government last month, Fayyad had previously met only with the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem. Rice avoided members of the government during her last trip to the Middle East.

Fayyad [later] bemoaned the fact that, despite his long ties to the United States — his three children were born in the United States when he worked for the International Monetary Fund — the Palestinian political situation has slipped so much that a “simple handshake” generates headlines.

“For that to become news is depressing,” Fayyad said.

Yeah, but at least it’s something, he recognized, and he spoke positively about it. Rice’s steps toward sanity came only two days after Israel’s Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas held a precedent-shattering meeting at which they actually talked about talking about peace.

Kessler’s story this morning notes that this was Rice’s first meeting with a person in the Hamas-led Palestinian “unity” government:

The move comes as U.S. officials seek regulatory ways to sidestep a ban on aid to the Palestinian government.

Both [moves] indicate a greater willingness by the Bush administration to part with Israel on how to deal with a cabinet headed by a member of the militant group Hamas. Israeli officials have insisted that any person who joins the unity government is tainted by the association with Hamas, even an internationally respected financial expert like Fayyad.

But Rice, at least, is finally straying from the neocon script and seems to be playing the game of international politics the way others do. In that game, such visits and handshakes aren’t officially scheduled and they don’t come up during daily press briefings (see for yourself). Then, senior diplomatic officials reach out to reporters with spins of such unannounced meetings. Kessler writes:

A senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said that Rice personally likes Fayyad and that she arranged for the meeting in part to “sharpen the distinctions” between those members of the Palestinian government who support peace with Israel and those who back Hamas. “If we shun them all, how will we make that clear?” he asked.

Is it possible that U .S. policy in the Middle East will finally detach itself form the clutches of hard-line fanatics in the U.S. and Israel?

The Israeli daily Haaretz reports the Rice-Fayyad meeting, quoting Fayyad as saying the U.S. is thinking of lifting its ban on international banking with the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Fayyad even says, “Things are evolving in a positive way.”

Maybe someone at Foggy Bottom is finally listening to people like General Anthony Zinni, who tried to argue years ago that the U.S. should be focusing on stopping the madness between Jews and Arabs in Israel instead of inflaming passions with a military adventure elsewhere in the Middle East. As I recently once again quoted Zinni as saying way back in 2004 about the invasion of Iraq:

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing about the benefits of this strategic move. That the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad, when just the opposite is true: The road to Baghdad led through Jerusalem. You solve the Middle East peace process, you’d be surprised what kinds of other things will work out.