LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s and the international community’s refusal to speak to the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas is doing more harm than good, a British parliamentary committee said on Monday.
Pursuing a “West Bank first” policy — where Britain and others deal with the West Bank, which is run by the secular Fatah group, and isolate the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip — will further jeopardize peace, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report on the Middle East.
“The government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas,” the all-party group of lawmakers said.
It said former prime minister Tony Blair should personally engage with Hamas to help reconciliation in his new role as envoy for the Quartet of Middle East mediators — the United States, the European Union, the United States and Russia.
The committee also criticized Britain’s response last year’s war between Israel and Lebanon’s Islamist Hezbollah movement. It said Blair’s refusal as prime minister to call for an immediate ceasefire had done “significant damage to the UK’s reputation.”
Britain has joined a Western political and financial embargo of Hamas, an Islamist movement with an armed wing that is regarded as a terrorist group by Israel, the European Union and the United States.
Hamas has been isolated because of its refusal to meet three criteria: recognition of Israel’s right to exist, renunciation of violence and adherence to interim peace deals with Israel.
The parliamentary report also recommended that Britain press Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah group is backed by the West, into negotiations with Hamas to re-establish a national unity government across the Palestinian territories.
The committee said Britain had erred in enforcing the embargo against Hamas even after it agreed in February to form a unity government with Fatah.
Mike Gapes, chairman of the committee, said the international community’s lack of positive response “has actually contributed to the deteriorating situation.”
Factional fighting between the rival movements eventually led to Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip in June, while Fatah, which lost an election to Hamas in early 2006, was reduced to administering the larger West Bank territory.
“If we’re ever going to get a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel then we’ve got to have the involvement of Gaza as well as the West Bank and, frankly, operating on any other basis will not give us a two-state solution,” Gapes told BBC radio.
On Iraq, the committee expressed concern about the United States’ “surge” tactic — a determined offensive against militants fuelled by an injection of more U.S. troops.
“It is too early to provide a definitive assessment of the U.S. ‘surge’ but it does not look likely to succeed,” it said.