Chris Patten: end blockade, talk to Hamas

By Jennifer Lipman, July 19, 2010
Lord Patten

Lord Patten

Conservative politician Lord Patten has attacked Israel for what he called the “medieval siege" of the Gaza Strip, and called for the European Union to do more to end it.

In an interview with the Guardian while visiting Gaza the former cabinet minister and current Oxford University Chancellor described it as "easier to get into a maximum security prison in the UK than to enter Gaza."

He called on the EU to take a position on Israel that is bolder and more independent from the United States and described the blockade of Gaza as "immoral, illegal and ineffective.”

Israel has significantly eased in the last month to allow most civilian goods through, but Lord Patten added that the blockade is an impediment to persuading “Gaza and its political leadership to take a course which will lead to reconciliation and peace and stability.

“It's difficult to know how you accomplish that if you deny the people of Gaza any social or economic progress."

Lord Patten, who is president of Medical Aid for Palestinians, also said it is unreasonable to insist Hamas accept all past agreements before direct talks take place.

Pointing to his experience with the Northern Ireland peace process, he said that rather than weakening Hamas, by isolating the militant group "you strengthen people who are even more extreme than they are.

"You don't always agree with people you talk to – indeed sometimes you find them despicable – but you need to ease them out of the corners into which they've painted themselves rather than lay on the paint much thicker.”

However he added: “It’s wholly reasonable to say we couldn't deal with Hamas unless they agreed to a comprehensive and complete ceasefire.”

Despite his criticisms, Lord Patten, an observant Catholic who is overseeing the Pope’s visit to the UK in September, spoke against campaigns by pro-Palestinians to boycott Israel.

He said. “I don’t think a boycott would help. It could have the reverse consequences to those intended."

Last updated: 12:39pm, July 20 2010