Engage Hamas: Ex-peace Negotiators

A group of former international peace negotiators is advocating a re-think of the West’s Hamas isolation policy, insisting that the Palestinian group must be engaged in the peace process.

"As former peace negotiators, we believe it is of vital importance to abandon the failed policy of isolation and to involve Hamas in the political process," they said in a public letter published Thursday, February 26, in The Times.

"There can be no meaningful peace process that involves negotiating with the representative of one part of the Palestinians while simultaneously trying to destroy the other."

The signatories include former UN Middle East envoy Alvaro de Soto, former EU envoy for Bosnia Paddy Ashdown, Australia’s ex-foreign minister and Cambodia peace negotiator Gareth Evans and former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

"We have learnt first-hand that there is no substitute for direct and sustained negotiations with all parties to a conflict, and rarely if ever a durable peace without them."

Led by the US, the West has rejected contacts with Hamas since the group swept Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and came to power.

They link any talks with Hamas to its recognition of Israel, acceptance of signed peace agreements and end of what is described as "violence" against Israel.

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.

New Strategy

The ex-peace negotiators said the Hamas isolation policy has backfired.

"This approach is not working; a new strategy must be found," they said.

"Engagement can strengthen pragmatic elements and their ability to strike the hard compromises needed for peace," they added.

"The latest and bloodiest conflict between Israel and Hamas has demonstrated that the policy of isolating Hamas cannot bring about stability."

More than 1,300 people, half of them women and children, were killed in a three-week Israeli offensive on Gaza last month.

The onslaught, which wrecked havoc on Gaza’s infrastructure, left nearly 20,000 homes and thousands other buildings damaged.

The former diplomats said Hamas still maintains Palestinian support despite attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts and military incursions.

"Whether we like it or not, Hamas will not go away," the world-renowned ex-negotiators recognized.

"Yes, Hamas must recognize Israel as part of a permanent solution, but it is a diplomatic process and not ostracization that will lead them there.

"Ending their isolation will in turn help in reconciling the Palestinian national movement, a vital condition for meaningful negotiations with Israel," they insisted.

"We must recognize that engaging Hamas does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians. In fact, it is a precondition for security and for brokering a workable agreement."

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