EU: Int'l policy on Hamas has failed

Leading Middle East diplomats say the world's efforts to weaken the group should be reevaluated.

gaza aid 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza aid 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The international community's efforts at trying to weaken Hamas have failed and should be reevaluated, the EU's two leading diplomats to Israel and the PA said Monday, although they stopped well short of saying that Hamas should be engaged. "The policy implemented in the last year [toward the Gaza Strip] aimed at strengthening people [through providing direct economic assistance and humanitarian aid], and weakening Hamas... is having the opposite effect," said Ramiro Cibrián-Uzal, the EU's ambassador to Israel. "We need to think about alternative policies, because this has not been successful. This is important to recognize." Cibrian-Uzal's counterpart in the West Bank and Gaza, John Kjaer, agreed, saying that the closure of the crossings into Gaza had been counterproductive. Only allowing in humanitarian assistance, rather than a free flow of goods through the Gaza crossing that enable the development of the Gaza economy and show "peace dividends," has only increased Hamas's clout, Kjaer said. Both men, speaking at a press briefing in Jerusalem, insisted, however, that there were no EU contacts with Hamas, and that there could and would be none until the organization accepted the Quartet's three conditions for engagement: recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism, and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Cibrian-Uzal said that opening the crossings into Gaza could help strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "Many people would share the view that what we are seeing now is strengthening Hamas," the ambassador said. "We have to see what we can do so that Abbas can show a peace dividend, and the opening of the crossing into Gaza could do this." Regarding the possibility of a Hamas-brokered cease-fire in Gaza, Cibrian-Uzal said that "Israel should accept something that leads to the stabilization of Gaza." He said the EU would support reasonable proposals for quiet in Gaza, and "we believe others should as well." He said that the EU had consistently said that any cease-fire deal should include a prisoner exchange that would bring about the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, something that Israeli defense officials have said was an important condition to any deal. Pietro Pistolese, Head of EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) at Rafah, said in an apparent reference to Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman's expected visit here next week that "the visit of relevant personalities will help open the Rafah crossing again." Suleiman is expected to bring to Jerusalem Hamas's acceptance of a cease-fire, something that Israel is likely to accept, although not formally. Israel has let it be known that quiet in Gaza, and an end to the smuggling of arms there, would lead to reciprocal quiet from Israel as well. Pistolese said that the EU monitors were willing to take on different tasks at the Rafah Crossing than the ones they performed when they were first dispatched to the crossing in 2005. Israel is interested in the unit doing more than merely monitoring the crossing, as it did in the past, but Pistolese did not specify what additional tasks were being discussed. He did make clear, however, that the EU force would not return to the crossing unless it was under control of the Palestinian Authority, rather than Hamas. The EUBAM mandate expires on May 24, and can be extended only if agreed upon by both Israel and the PA.