Talk to Hamas: Blair

In a U-turn on the isolation of the Palestinian group Hamas, Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair criticized the West’s isolation of the Palestinian group, calling for including Hamas into the Middle East peace process.

"I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process," Blair told The Times on Saturday, January 31.

"(My) basic predisposition is that in a situation like this you talk to everybody."

Hamas trounced President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement in the 2006 parliamentary elections and formed a government.

But the West refused any contact with the Hamas-led government, insisting the Palestinian group must first renounce "violence" and recognize Israel.

Blair, then British prime minister, joined the US and Israel in imposing a crippling siege on the Gaza Strip, home to 1.6 million Palestinians.

The West also poured money into the hands of the Palestinian government in the West Bank, sidelining the elected government in Gaza.

"(This policy) was never going to work and will never work," admitted Blair.

"It was half of what we needed.

Blair said there is a distinction between the difficulty of negotiating with Hamas as part of a peace process if they would not accept one of the states in the two-state solution, and "talking to Hamas as the de facto power in Gaza".

He declined to answer whether he has held unofficial talks with the Palestinian group.

"I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process, but it can only be done if Hamas are prepared to do it on the right terms."

Backfire

Blair admitted that the West’s isolation policy was to blame for the deadly violence in the densely-populated strip.

"The trouble is that if you simply try to push Gaza to one side then eventually what happens is the situation becomes so serious that it erupts and you deliver into the hands of the mass the power to erupt at any point in time," he said.

Israel, which has been closing Gaza’s exits to the outside world since Hamas took control of the territory in June 2007, launched on December 27 a devastating 22-day war on Gaza Strip.

The onslaught left more than 1,350 Palestinians, including 437 children, dead and 5,450 wounded.

The offensive also wrecked havoc on Gaza’s infrastructure, leaving thousands of homes, government buildings, schools, hospitals and mosques in ruins.

"I have been saying for some time that what was needed was a completely different strategy," said Blair.

"(There must be a better chance of a strategy in Gaza) that offers people the possibility of rejoining the West Bank on the right terms.

"Yes, we do need to show through the change we are making on the West Bank that the Palestinian state could be a reality," Blair said.

Blair said it is of utmost importance to bring hopes of better future for the Palestinians to help bring peace to the region.

"We do have to find a way of making sure that the choice is put before Hamas and the people of Gaza in a clear, understandable, unambiguous way, for them to choose their future," he said.

"You have to find a way of communicating that choice to them in their terms. Now exactly what way you choose at the moment that is an open question."

(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)

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