UK MPs Urge Softer Hamas Approach

Faulting the international community’s approach to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, the British House of Lords called on the European Union Tuesday, July 24, to engage Hamas as a key Palestinian player.

"We believe that the EU’s objective should be to attempt to maintain a peace process that is as inclusive as possible," said the influential Foreign Affairs subcommittee in a new report.

"Dialogue with the key parties is an essential aspect of the peace process."

The report, "The EU and the Middle East Peace Process," urged the EU to reach out to all Palestinian parties in order to achieve progress on ground.

The subcommittee, which groups 11 members of the upper house of parliament, warned that the situation in the Palestinian territories is fluid and could rapidly deteriorate.

It contended that the EU is in a stronger position than the Middle East Quartet to participate "actively and forcefully" with all parties involved.

"The EU needs to increase and sustain its effort to work more closely with all the main players towards an inclusive peace process and settlement."

The report came one day after former British prime minister Tony Blair began his first visit to the region as new Quartet Mideast envoy.

Blair has met Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but no Hamas officials.

There have been increasing calls for contact with Hamas lately.

Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, said last week that Hamas is not going away and does enjoy considerable support among the Palestinian people.

In a letter earlier this month, ten European foreign ministers, including those of France, Spain and Italy, urged Blair to find some way to talk to Hamas.

"Undesirably Rigid"

The British parliamentarians regretted the "undesirably rigid" stances against the Hamas-led national unity government.

"The approach taken by the EU on the Quartet principles is not beyond criticism," said the subcommittee charged with scrutinizing European policies.

"Conditions about the formal recognition by Hamas of the state of Israel amalgamate elements of any final status negotiations with the preliminaries to such negotiations."

The report also criticized the US-led financial and political boycott of the Hamas government.

It lamented how the aid cut led to "a devastating effect on the socio-economic fabric and on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories. "

"It is becoming evident that the Quartet approach contributed nothing to ameliorate the crisis," said the parliamentary subcommittee.

In the wake of June’s bloody infighting that ended up with Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip, Washington adopted a "West Bank first" strategy to support Abbas.

The US and the EU immediately lifted the year-long aid freeze.

But analysts believe the Bush administration is betting on a losing horse if it thinks Abbas can oust rival Hamas.

( July 25, 2007)

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