By Ray Fleming

THE news late yesterday that the two Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have “reconciled all differences” and will soon sign an agreement for a government of national unity and elections could not be more welcome. If it leads, as it promises, to the end of the separation of the two parts of Palestine between Gaza and the West Bank it will be a major step towards the formation of an independent Palestinian state with the approval of the General Assembly of the United Nations later this year.

A unity government was formed between Hamas and Fatah in 2006 after Hamas won “free and fair” Palestinian elections but it broke down when Israel, Britain and the United States refused to recognise Hamas as an acceptable member of the Palestinian government and Hamas broke away to take control of Gaza. It is absolutely essential that Britain, other EU countries and the United States do not repeat their grievous error of five years ago.

The difficulties that a Fatah-Hamas government will face speak for themselves but they must not be exacerbated by opposition from the international Quartet negotiating body. Nor should Israel be allowed to veto talks with a new Palestinian government before giving them a chance of succeeding. This is a great opportunity for Middle East peace and it must be given every opportunity to succeed.