MPs urge UK-Hamas talks

By Bernard Josephs, July 30, 2009

The influential House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee this week called for the UK government to talk to Hamas, and in so doing end the international embargo on dealing with the organisation.

In its report on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which sparked expressions of concern from Jewish leaders, the committee also criticised Israel’s reaction to rocket attacks from Gaza as disproportionate.

Committee chairman, Labour MP Mike Gapes, usually considered a strong but not uncritical supporter of Israel at Westminster, said that the policy of rejecting contacts with Hamas — adopted by the diplomatic Quartet of the UN, the EU, Russia and America — blocked the path to peace.

He and his colleagues believed the government should urgently consider engaging with moderate elements within Hamas.

He said: “We see few signs that the current policy of non-engagement is achieving the Quartet’s objectives.”
The MPs also welcomed the government’s decision earlier this year to open contacts with the political wing of Hizbollah, the Lebanese Islamic militia.

It was the second time in two years that the committee has issued a report calling for talks with Hamas. Such a policy switch has attracted increasing support in Parliament.

“There is no way of having a viable Palestinian state without Gaza. The ‘West Bank only’ policy will not work. If the current strategy does not bring peace then it is time to consider a new one,” said Mr Gapes.

The committee’s report, which will be studied by Foreign Secretary David Miliband, welcomed the endorsement by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, it expressed concern about settlement growth and concluded that while Hamas was still targeting civilians in Israel, Israel’s military action in Gaza was, nevertheless, disproportionate.

It also welcomed Britain’s recent decision to revoke some arms exports to Israel in light of the Gaza conflict and said that the European Union, Israel’s biggest trading partner, should make any upgrade of relations conditional on Israel halting “practices which are prejudicial to the achievement of a two-state solution”.

Reacting to the report, Board of Deputies chief executive Jon Benjamin warned against rewarding Hamas for its “utter intransigence”. It threatened not just Jews in Israel but Jews around the world, he said.
Zionist Federation chairman Andrew Balcombe described the notion of finding moderate elements within Hamas as “a fairytale, based on the usual myth that there must be someone to talk to”.

Hamas, he said, had shown “no sliver of evidence” that it was moderating its stance.

The Israeli Embassy declined to comment.

Last updated: 4:19pm, July 30 2009