Right of Reply: Sensible statecraft

Israel and the international community need to be ready to exploit any opening that the Hamas-PA reconciliation might offer.

May 11, 2011 23:05
4 minute read.
Soldiers walk by the school bus hit by a missile.

School bus anti tank attack 311. (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

This paper’s recent editorial “Befuddled Britain” (May 6) was based on the understandable fear of many Israelis that the world will go misty-eyed about Hamas and let wishful thinking triumph over judgment. Britain understands that fear, and has been clear that it will not suddenly go soft on Hamas. Britain understands the threat Hamas poses to Israel, and the hate-filled ideology that pervades Hamas’s charter. But while the editorial was right to set out the importance of moral clarity, it was wrong to misrepresent Britain’s position on the issue on the basis of innuendo and falsehoods.

I WAS at the meeting between our prime ministers. David Cameron was – and remains – crystal clear about Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization that has deliberately targeted innocent civilians. In the past few weeks, there has been an upsurge in violence that has resulted in deaths inside Israel, including, as the editorial mentioned, Daniel Viflic – a teenager with British and Israeli citizenship who died after Hamas fired an antitank missile at a school bus last month. Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, was one of the few to mourn the death of Osama bin Laden, describing him as “a holy warrior.”

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We are not so “underinformed and unrealistic” as to think that an organization that fires a missile into a school bus one week and condemns the killing of a murderous terrorist the next will suddenly turn into a partner for peace.

But David Cameron also made clear in his meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu that though we must remain clear-sighted about Hamas, we need to be ready to exploit any opening that the Hamas-PA reconciliation might offer. This is not naive; it is simply sensible statecraft. We are clear that Hamas needs to renounce violence and commit decisively to a negotiated peace with Israel – not as a tactical ploy, but out of a genuine desire to end this conflict. But we are also clear that if – as a result of this reconciliation – it does move in the right direction, we need to give it the opportunity to prove it is serious. Or not. If Hamas decides to support rather than undermine a Palestinian Authority that continues its security cooperation with Israel, and if it will endorse the PLO strategy of negotiating for peace, then these are potentially positive steps. And if rockets continue to be fired from Gaza once the reconciled government is in place, then that government will be held accountable.

This is not about being misty-eyed; It is about being at once clear-eyed about reality, and open-eyed about what positive change needs to look like for progress to be made. The easiest stance to take would be to say that nothing good could ever come out of the reconciliation deal. But ruling out even the possibility of progress will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The editorial was also wrong to suggest that we are pushing just one side to return to the negotiating table. We are clear with both sides that the only route to peace is through negotiations. We have been completely clear that there is no international solution, no UN solution which does not come back to the need to negotiate peace with Israel. We cannot impose a solution on Israel or the Palestinians; both sides must return to negotiations, based on clear parameters supported by the international community, in order to resolve the final-status issues.

THERE WAS one other colossal inaccuracy in the editorial. On the issue of universal jurisdiction, this newspaper accused the British government of dragging its feet over amending the law. This is simply wrong. An amendment that will finally end the anomaly that has allowed the UK’s system to be used for political reasons was introduced at the first possible opportunity when the coalition government took office. This amendment, which is part of the Police Reform and Social Responsibilities Bill, is currently making its way through the House of Lords, having already gone through the House of Commons, and we expect the amendment to become law by the end of this year.

As the guardian of the relationship between our two countries, I can attest to the warmth between our leaders. David Cameron and Binyamin Netanyahu discussed a host of plans for extensive bilateral cooperation, including stepping up our security dialogue and the importance we both attach to our cooperation on Iran.

Israel is celebrating 63 years of independence and indeed, 63 years since the end of the British Mandate. As it does so, I can only express my hope, and that of the British government, that this coming year brings Israel closer to finally achieving real peace and lasting security. It is all too easy to get caught up in the blame game, and to spend endless column inches poring over the history. The rate at which history is being made in this region at the moment means that now – more than ever – is the time for bold decisions.

Britain, together with the rest of the international community, will be there to help Israel and the Palestinians take the steps needed for peace - clear-eyed about what is, but also never losing sight of what might be.

The writer is British ambassador to Israel.

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