Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Clare Short is right to seek dialogue with Hamas

It appears that Clare Short is in trouble for inviting Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to address MPs in Parliament. Meshal, the head of Hamas's political bureau and the target of a bungled Israeli assassination attempt in 1997, is set to speak to a committee of MPs via a video link.

I think, on balance, that Clare Short is right to extend the invitation to Meshal. It is easy to forget that the recent role played by Hamas in securing the release of the BBC journalist Alan Johnston. Hamas cares about how it is perceived abroad which means that countries like the UK really do have potential leverage over the organisation that, legitimately and democratically rules Gaza. Short and others argue that the attempt to weaken Hamas by isolating it has failed; and that this policy seems to have strengthened support for Hamas among Palestinians, while Fatah, its great rival, has suffered from being seen as the West’s favoured friend. Hamas is not perfect - there are still many reasons as to why the US and many European countries are reluctant to enter into dialogue with it, such as its ambition for Islamic rule, its refusal to recognise Israel's right to exist, its links to violence and terror, and its numerous rocket attacks on Israelis. There have, however, been some recent conciliatory moves from Hamas - Meshaal, has said publicly that the state of Israel is a "reality" and that “there will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of fact”.

What is clear is that the policy of boycotting of Hamas contributed to radicalising its members and in provoking Fatah’s overthrow in Gaza. The Gaza economy is in a dire state, largely because Israel closes most of the border crossings most of the time. Britain, the EU and the US should be seeking to encourage the more moderate elements in Hamas with the prospect of recognition and financial assistance, in exchange for good behaviour and the return of a single government for all the Palestinian territories, which is a precondition for the revival of the peace process. In the long term, it is in Israel’s interests that the moderate elements within Hamas – the strongest political entity in Palestine – be strengthened.

1 comment:

stuartbrucepr said...

Blimey Mike, you're on a roll. Two great posts in a day. I used to be very active in Palestinian human rights and politics. And back in 1992 even visited Lebanon to go to the 'no-man's land' where the 400+ alleged Hamas members expelled from the Occupied Territories were stuck. One of the most important things to remember about Hamas is that there are vast internal differences between the moderates and the extremists. By not allowing a dialogue we strenghten the hands of the extremists which is what has been happening consistently over the last few years.