WE have not heard much from Michael Ancram since he ceased to be the Conservative's foreign affairs spokesperson, but he said an interesting thing the other day: “It is time to start dancing with wolves, to start talking to terrorists.” A few months ago that would have been heresy but an increasing number of responsible people are beginning to say that the present attitude of the West towards “terrorists” in the Middle East is counter–productive.

Of nowhere is this more true than in the Palestinian territories where the policy of cold–shouldering the elected Hamas government has achieved only a hardening of attitudes.

At the moment the European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Helsinki, have shown the greatest realism by recognising that the attention of the Bush administration is wholly directed to the November mid–term elections and that therefore they have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to engage with the Palestinian issue.

Although there is still no consensus that talks should be opened with Hamas, the issue is at least now on the table for discussion. One possible approach would be to encourage Hamas to join with the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for exploratory talks with the EU. For this to happen, however, a gesture would be needed from Israel since its forces arbitrarily arrested most members of the Hamas cabinet while everyone was looking the other way at Lebanon.


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