British MPs want gov't to engage Hamas

Foreign Affairs Committee says policy of shunning Hamas not "achieving Quartet's stated objectives."

mashaal check caption please 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
mashaal check caption please 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
British legislators on Sunday urged the government to engage in talks with "moderate elements" within Hamas, saying that the Quartet's policy of shunning the Palestinian group until it accepts previous understandings with Israel, renounces violence and comes to terms with Israel's existence, had proven to be counterproductive. The Foreign Affairs Committee in Britain's House of Commons issued a report Sunday in which it reiterated a request to talk to Hamas initially made two years ago. "We conclude that there continue to be few signs that the current policy of nonengagement is achieving the Quartet's stated objectives," the committee stated in the report. "We further conclude that the credible peace process, for which the Quartet hopes as part of its strategy for undercutting Hamas, is likely to be difficult to achieve without greater cooperation from Hamas itself." The committee further stated its concern over the Quartet's "failure" to offer Hamas greater incentives to soften its position, emphasizing that British willingness to talk to the rulers of the Gaza Strip would encourage the group to live up to the demands of the Quartet. The MPs making up the committee also lamented the fact that half a year after Operation Cast Lead, a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas had still not been cemented. Such a situation, the committee concluded, made for "an ongoing risk of insecurity and a renewed escalation of violence." The committee expressed "deep concern" over the number of casualties reported during the fighting in Gaza, deploring both Hamas's targeting of civilian targets and Israel's use of "disproportionate" force. Earlier this year, Britain broke with international policy banning engagement with groups involved in terror when it announced that it would try to forge ties with Hizbullah's "political wing." At the time, the minister of state of the Foreign Office, Bill Rammell, said the government endorsed contacts only with Hizbullah members "legitimately involved in Lebanese politics," known "moderate political figures" and those who rejected violence. He also said that although he "would like to talk to Hamas," Britain would only do so when the group renounced its violent struggle against Israel. In April, technical problems prevented Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal from addressing a group of MPs and peers in the British Parliament. Only around 30 MPs and peers attended the meeting, which was set up to support the position that there can be no peace in the Middle East without talking to the Islamist movement. Mashaal was unable to address the meeting when the video link failed. The decision to allow a representative of Hamas, considered a terrorist organization in the UK, to speak in Parliament was condemned by Israel's ambassador to Britain as well as by the Foreign Office and an array of politicians. Jonny Paul and AP contributed to this report.