Glitch scuttles Mashaal's UK address

Organizers unrepentant as Hamas leaderfails to address British Parliament meeting.

Mashaal 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Mashaal 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Technical problems prevented Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal from addressing a group of MPs and peers in the British Parliament on Wednesday night. 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. Independent MP Clare Short, who organized the meeting, said she would invite the Hamas leader to address a future meeting again via video link. 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 and by the Foreign Office and an array of politicians. The Conservative Foreign Affairs team wrote a letter to the speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, expressing its concerns. "Hamas remains a proscribed terrorist organization under UK law," Shadow Foreign Minister David Lidington said. "It would be inconceivable that Khaled Mashaal would be permitted to travel to the UK in person to address MPs. I have written a letter to the speaker, urging him to consider whether parliamentary facilities should be used in such a meeting." MP James Arbuthnot, parliamentary chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said it was "unacceptable that the head of Hamas's political bureau be allowed to communicate with MPs and peers in Parliament via a video link-up." He, too, noted that Mashaal would not have been allowed to enter the country for a face-to-face meeting, adding, "This is clear maneuvering around the system and makes a mockery of our parliamentary institutions, as well as painting parliament as soft on terrorism and as supporters of terrorism." Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor echoed these sentiments, saying it was "regrettably ironic that a man who could never receive an entry visa to Britain because he is considered a terrorist would have the privilege to address MPs in parliament, thanks to new technologies." During the meeting, Hamas was portrayed as a resistance movement, and Short told participants that what people read about Hamas was "propaganda." "Hamas told us that you cannot believe what you read about Hamas and that their charter is 20 years old. They told us that when an independent Palestinian state is set up, it will have its own constitution, and the charter will be irrelevant," she said. In response to a question from the audience regarding the status of women in Hamas-controlled territory, Short said that Hamas had women MPs and that not all women in Gaza were veiled. Chairing the meeting, Lord John Alderdice, a former Northern Ireland politician and Liberal Democrat Party peer, compared the situation with Northern Ireland. "We made peace in Ireland by talking to the IRA, so why not talk to Hamas?" he said. Also speaking at the meeting was Labor MP Lyn Jones, who met Mashaal and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command representatives Ahmed Jabril and Talal Naji in Syria last month. "Anyone who genuinely wants to see peace in the Middle East ought to listen to what he has to say and engage with him. He is a powerful figure," Jones said.