(photo credit: AP [file])
A member of parliament has questioned the UK government's stance on Hizbullah and called on the government to reevaluate its position on exploring contacts with the Islamist organization.
In a debate in parliament on Tuesday, Labor MP Andrew Gwynne, who secured the debate on the issue, asked the Minister of State of the Foreign Office, Bill Rammell, why the government had chosen to pursue contacts with Hizbullah.
He said that Britain's stance had been used by Hizbullah to make gains in its electoral campaign in Lebanon and that Britain should not engage organizations "that have entrenched, non-negotiable positions and which seek political change through violence."
"Hizbullah's electoral campaign has been boosted by the British decision [to explore contacts with Hizbullah], which was made despite the fact that, as outlined, Hizbullah does not distinguish between its political and military wings," said Gwynne, who is also the chair of the Labor Friends of Israel.
In January, the British ambassador in Lebanon attended a meeting of British parliamentarians with the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Committee, which included Hizbullah member Ali Amar.
Gwynne asked the minister what the benefits have been to date of contacts with Hizbullah and what they would be going forward.
In response, the Minister of State said the government endorses contacts only with Hizbullah members "legitimately involved in Lebanese politics", known "moderate political figures" and those who rejected violence.
"We are exploring the possibility of limited and considered contacts with Hizbullah's politicians. That means contacts only - I emphasize 'only' - with those members of Hizbullah who are legitimately involved in Lebanese politics and not with those who are involved in violence and terrorism. We are open to serious discussion with Hizbullah's MPs on the same basis as MPs from other factions in Lebanon," Rammell said.
Britain makes a distinction between Hizbullah's political and military wings, deeming the military wing a terrorist group, but not the political side of the organization.
Gwynne said that following the upcoming elections in Lebanon, Britain would be in a position to revaluate its stance, as the Islamist organization would then have the choice of continuing down the path of violence or disarming and engaging peacefully through non-violent means.
Should it choose the former, Gwynne suggested that the government should reconsider its policy of exploring contacts with any element of the organization.
"Not reevaluating that policy will allow Hizbullah to continue to use UK recognition as a means to legitimize its actions. Further, the danger is that British policy could undermine Arab moderates in the region who strive for peace through non-violent means," he said.
Gwynne said Hizbullah not only adversely impacted on the internal politics of Lebanon, but also on the stability of the wider region and Middle East peace process.
"The organization is intimidating the electorate and marginalizing the government's sovereignty while flouting UN resolutions 1701 and 1559, which calls on Hizbullah to disarm," Gwynne said. "As admitted by Hizbullah itself, and spelled out in the UN Secretary-General's report, Hizbullah provides support to Palestinian militant groups to strengthen their capacity to launch attacks against Israel.
"Such actions undermine the Palestinian moderates, led by [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas, who are committed to a two-state solution."
In response, Rammell said: "The government is fundamentally committed to pursuing a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution. A comprehensive approach to the peace process will bring stability to the wider region and political stability throughout the world.
"That means developing a solution on the Israel-Syria track, addressing concerns about Iranian intentions and ensuring stability in Lebanon. Within that, the international community has a hugely important role to play. We must redouble our efforts to make a two-state solution a reality."
Gwynne suggested that the international community should focus all its efforts on empowering the moderates who are committed to peace in the region.
"I therefore urge my government to do all they can to engage with the new US and Israeli administrations and the wider Arab world in a process to build a comprehensive peace and constantly to reevaluate their position vis-Ã -vis exploring contact with Hizbullah," he told the minister.
In his response, Rammell said the government's decision to put the military wing of Hizbullah on the list of proscribed terrorist organizations showed their strong position towards terrorism.
He added that future contacts with Hizbullah would be carefully considered and decisions made "on a case-by-case basis." The minister also used the debate to make clear his government's policies towards Hamas.
"We have no contact with Hamas and we do not believe that it is productive to talk to it directly at the moment," he said. "As long as Hamas fails to subscribe to a two-state solution and fundamentally to reject violence, it is difficult to see how it can be part of the solution.
"If and when the Palestinians form a government of national consensus, we will look carefully at their exact composition and programme before making any decisions on engagement."
Rammell also said that his government must engage with the new Israeli government, but that Israel must also clamp down on settlement building.
"We are at a timely juncture in the affairs of the Middle East. Some people are pessimistic, but there are hopes and opportunities. President Obama and the new US government are more committed to pursuing peace in the region than any US administration in recent times. We must engage with the new Israeli government and support the Arab peace initiative, and we need to see some response from the Israeli government, particularly on settlements.
"I hope that with support from the international community, we can drive the process forward and move from a debate about a peace process to a plan for implementation that can bring prosperity, peace and security for all," he said.