Robert Novak

Over dinner in a Ramallah restaurant April 4, Fayyad told me he offered his column simultaneously to several major American newspapers to get this story out quickly. But do his Hamas colleagues accept his reasoning? Fayyad made clear he was not flying solo.

Just before my trip ended, the Palestinian Authority at long last put me in touch with an official who was no low-level bureaucrat. Nasser al-Shaer was deputy prime minister in the all-Hamas regime last Aug. 19 when he was seized in an Israeli raid on his home in Ramallah and held for a month without charges or evidence.

In his ministry office April 7, he looked nothing like the shirt-sleeved, tie-less Shaer photographed when he was released last Sept. 27. Holder of a doctorate from England's University of Manchester, he was dressed in a stylish suit. More telling than his appearance was what he said.

When I asked whether Hamas agreed with Fayyad's formulation, Shaer said it did not matter: "We are talking about the government, not groups." He said Hamas was no more relevant to Palestinian policy than the views of extremist anti-Palestinian Israeli Cabinet member Avigdor Lieberman are to Israeli policy. Unexpectedly, Shaer expressed dismay that "previous attempts at peace were ruined by suicide bombers. Now, we look forward to a sustained peace."

While avoiding Israel-bashing, Shaer conjectured: "I don't think the Israeli government wants a two-state solution. Without pressure from the president of the United States, nothing is going to happen." That sounded like a plea for help from George W. Bush. But will he hear it if Elliott Abrams does not listen?


Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.
 

 
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