ALJAZEERA opens its English language TV news channel this week and it will probably be a keen competitor of existing satellite TV services with a special edge on news from the Middle East. Yesterday, for instance, its press service put out a report about the choice of a new Palestine prime minister a couple of hours ahead of anyone else. The two main Palestinian political parties, Hamas and Fatah, have agreed on Dr Mohammad Shbeir to head a unity government. An American-educated former head of the Islamic University in Gaza, he has no direct political background but is believed to have maintained good relations with Palestinian leaders for many years. If his appointment is confirmed he will replace the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya and preside over a cabinet drawn mainly from Hamas and Fatah. This change, overseen by Palestine's president Mahmoud Abbas, is intended to create a government of national unity acceptable to the international community. It does not signal a climbdown by Hamas from its opposition to the existence of Israel but on the other hand it signals a more pragmatic approach than the one taken by the elected Hamas government when operating alone. For a second time Israel and the concerned Western powers have an opportunity of responding positively to the democratic forces at work in Palestine. On the first occasion after the Palestinian elections they failed to do so; they should not make the same mistake again.


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