In a major policy shift, several European countries are holding direct contacts with the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
"It is the beginning of something new – although we are not negotiating," a senior European diplomat told The Independent on Thursday, February 19.
Two French senators held talks two weeks ago with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal in Syria.
A week earlier, two British MPs met Hamas representative in Lebanon Ossama Hamdan.
"Far more people are talking to Hamas than anyone might think," said the European diplomat.
Led by the US, the West has rejected contacts with Hamas since the group swept Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and came to power.
The US and Israel also led an international campaign to impose a crippling siege on the densely-populated Gaza Strip, home to nearly 1.6 million.
The European Union, Palestinians biggest donors, also froze all financial aid to the Palestinian territories under the Hamas-led government.
The West officially links any talks with Hamas to its recognition of Israel, acceptance of signed peace agreements and end of what is described as "violence" against Israel.
Hamdan, the Hamas Lebanon representative, said MPs from Sweden, the Netherlands and three other western European countries had held talks with officials from his group since the end of last year.
"They believe they made a mistake by blacklisting Hamas," he said, referring to the EU’s decision to blacklist Hamas.
"Now they know they have to talk to Hamas."
But European officials insist that the contacts with Hamas were the MPs’ own initiative.
"(They) were not engaged in back channel or officially sanctioned talks," a British Foreign Office spokesman said.
Europe’s Hamas isolation policy has been called into question since Israel’s 22-day Israeli war on the besieged, impoverished coastal enclave killed nearly 1,400 people and wrecked havoc on its infrastructure.
Late last month, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair criticized the West’s isolation of Hamas, calling for its inclusion in the peace process.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, January 19, urged the West to respect the democratic Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power.
He asked the West to give Hamas a chance to demonstrate its governance.
"If they are not successful they will lose the next time."
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)