Hamas campaign in EU to come in from the cold
This posting has these items on Hamas-European relations in the last two years.
1) Harriet Sherwood: Hamas claims increased contact with European countries, July 2013;
2) Ma’an news: Official: Hamas to focus on removing name from terrorism list , April 2013;
3) AP: Hamas says it’s holding talks with 5 EU countries, May 2012;
4) PalThink: Palthink host the EU rep. to the Palestinian territories, December 2012;
5) EU Observer: Hamas appeals for talks with EU diplomats, December 2012;
6) Notes and links, CEPR and PalThink;
Hamas PM Haniyeh meets with Pat Sheehan, Sinn Fein member of the NI legislative assembly, 2012; Sheehan, a former IRA hunger-striker, said the Northern Ireland peace process would not have worked in Northern Ireland if the British government had not sat around a table with people whom it called “terrorists.” Photo by CEPR.org
Hamas claims increased contact with European countries
Islamist group ruling Gaza says governments including UK and France trying to establish open dialogue despite isolation policy
By Harriet Sherwood, guardian.co.uk,
July 12, 2013
Gaza City–European governments including Britain have stepped up back-channel contacts with Hamas despite an official EU policy of political isolation, in an effort to understand and possibly influence debate in the Islamist group about its future direction, according to four senior Hamas officials.
Meetings between Hamas and European government representatives and intermediaries have taken place in Gaza, Cairo and European capitals over recent months, the officials said.
The EU banned contact between its member states and the Islamist organisation when the latter took over Gaza in 2007, and Hamas is classified as a terrorist organisation by Brussels.
The Hamas officials, who spoke to the Guardian over recent weeks, declined to give specific details of meetings. “These countries trust us not to disclose information about contacts,” said Ahmed Yousef, a member of Hamas’s decision-making body, the shura council, and a former deputy foreign minister.
“We try to keep the contacts low-profile because it causes trouble. We prefer not to talk about it but I can guarantee that most European countries are interested in opening doors to Hamas.”
Britain was among the EU countries mentioned by the four Gaza officials as having recent contact with Hamas. Others included Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain.
The UK, Netherlands and Sweden denied official government-level contact; spokesmen for the other countries did not respond to requests for comment. Norway and Switzerland, neither of which are EU members, are open about their links with Hamas representatives.
“Some activities are not at official levels, but there are also some at official level, away from the media,” said Basem Naim, who is in charge of foreign affairs in the Hamas government in Gaza and a former health minister. “We have met some ambassadors and some government officials.”
Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister, said he had met European government representatives, including ambassadors and consuls, in recent weeks. Most of his interlocutors “believe the policy of isolation must end and dialogue must open”, he said.
Taher al-Nounou, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said he had met officials and former officials in Europe, and further meetings were planned. “All countries refuse to declare these meetings because they tied their hands by putting Hamas on the EU terror list,” he said.
Hamas stressed that the purpose of the meetings was not negotiations but to establish links and open dialogue.
“Hamas is a fact on the ground, an active part of Palestinian politics,” said Naim. “This is well known to all players, inside and outside [Palestine], including those in Europe. Anyone who wants to influence the politics on the ground has to take this into consideration.”
Al-Nounou cited three main purposes to approaches from EU states. “Firstly, they want to know about our vision for the peace process, and whether Hamas’s position is changing. They want to know if Hamas is for political or military methods, and compare the positions of Hamas now and in the past,” he said.
“Secondly, they believe Hamas is an important player in Palestine and in the region, and that they need to deal with us. Thirdly, they try to put pressure on us to accept the quartet demands.”
The Middle East quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – has set three principles that Hamas must accept for its isolation to end: renouncing violence, recognising Israel and abiding by previous diplomatic agreements.
But Hamas believes that many European governments now see the isolationist policy of the EU and US as a mistake, particularly in the aftermath of regional uprisings over the past two and a half years.
Hamas Prime minister Ismail Haniyeh leans across former MP Clare Short to talk with Jenny Tonge at a meeting of the Council for European Palestinian Relations [see link below].
Western countries have opened political dialogue with Islamist organisations which have taken power, yet continue to ban contact with Hamas.
However, the four Hamas officials spoke to the Guardian before the recent military takeover in Egypt. The removal of Mohamed Morsi as president and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood may check any contacts.
Meanwhile, the supposition that isolation would weaken Hamas has not been borne out. Although Hamas by no means enjoys universal support in Gaza, it has become more entrenched over the past six years.
“After six years of total isolation, boycott, the policy has failed,” said Naim. “You cannot close your eyes and put your head in the sand and say Hamas is not here. I have met with many Europeans at different levels and they all say the policy was a big mistake.”
According to Omar Shaban, the politically independent director of PalThink, a Gaza-based thinktank, European countries realise that “Hamas has to be part of the dialogue around the political future”. Not only do they need to understand Hamas, he said, but they are also asking if Hamas can be influenced. “They’ve realised they should not sit in Brussels and wait for Hamas to change. The international community needs to be proactive.”Some European countries would like to see Hamas taken off the EU terror list, said the Hamas officials. “They see Hamas has a new face – more realistic, more pragmatic, more co-operative,” said Hamad, one of the organisation’s more moderate figures. “It’s very clear to them that Hamas must be lifted from the terror list and dealt with as a partner and a main player in the region.”
Britain was one of the countries eager to meet Hamas, said Nounou, but was constrained by EU policy. “They have tried to open some channels with us, not directly, but through unofficial organisations.”
Naim said Hamas officials had met interlocutors who intended to report back to the UK government. This was not clearly stated, he added, “but we have an understanding”.
A British government source denied “doing anything covert” but said it had got “messages and information to and from Hamas” through channels. The source added: “We know some governments are in contact. Clearly at some stage, the likelihood of involving Hamas [in the political process] is high.” The question of whether the EU policy was tenable “comes up quite regularly for us to consider”.
A European diplomat said he would be surprised if any EU member states were engaged in direct contacts. “The risks are too high. It’s just about possible it’s happening, but unlikely.”
The Hamas officials said they also have contact with the US but through third parties. All four spoke of meetings with former US officials and advisers, described by Naim as “back-channel talks with people close to the White House”.
According to Yousef, “the Obama administration is turning a blind eye” to unofficial contact, “not like it was before”.
Shaban said he expected contact with the international community to increase over the coming months and years. “The Europeans and Americans are pragmatic.”
Israel, however, was committed to a “psychological blockade”, he said. “It’s easier to say ‘no compromise’ than to compromise. Israel prefers the easy path.”
Israel dismissed Hamas’s claims to be in regular contact with European countries. “The denials by Hamas’s supposed partners says a lot,” said Yigal Palmor of the foreign ministry. “But by claiming this, Hamas looks palatable, diplomatic, prestigious and successful. It sends a good message to its own constituency: that it is not as isolated as people say.”
Until Hamas met the quartet’s conditions, it could not be considered an interlocutor, he added. “Hamas is not willing to even consider meeting these criteria.”
By Ma’an news
April 23, 2013
BETHLEHEM – The Hamas movement has been holding a series of closed-door meetings in the Qatari capital of Doha to distribute positions on the new members of its politburo, says senior leader Ahmed Yousif.
Yousif told Ma’an Sunday that the task would be completed this week.
He highlighted that Hamas’ leader in Gaza and deputy chief of the movement’s politburo Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Doha to join the meetings and to discuss reconciliation with Fatah. He is also expected to discuss the special Arab League summit the Emir of Qatar suggested during the latest Doha summit to address Palestinian reconciliation.
Names and positions of new politburo members will be announced soon, added Yousif.
The new Hamas politburo, added Yousif, is expected to focus on benefiting from the Arab, Palestinian and Muslim communities in Europe to recruit support to Hamas in Europe, and try and take the movement’s name off terrorism lists.
“Hamas will focus on convincing European countries to take its name out of the terrorism list. Hamas is certain that the US will not agree to take its name off the list. However, European countries set only one condition to do that — avoiding martyrdom attacks inside Israel, and Hamas hasn’t carried out any attack since 2004.”
Asked about expected consultations to form a unity government after Salam Fayyad’s resignation, Yousif said his movement would be ready to join any consultations.
“The atmosphere is appropriate for forming a technocrat government, and the ball is on President (Mahmoud) Abbas’ court who can in a few weeks hold consultations with Palestinian factions and set a date for elections.”
Yousif applauded Fayyad highlighting that his resignation was not directly related to Palestinian reconciliation.
“He has gone through pressures and injustices by some people who tried to show that he was a weak element,” Yousif said.
Fayyad, added Yousif, is innocent of all these accusations and he is a patriotic man who helped the Palestinian national project considerably.
EU representative John Gatt-Rutter, right, in Gaza, signing financial agreement with Robert Taylor, UNRWA director, Gaza
Hamas says it’s holding talks with 5 EU countries
Europe and the U.S. have been rethinking Mideast policy since the Arab Spring uprisings toppled several pro-Western regimes in favor of Islamists.
By Associated Press
May 02, 2012
BEIRUT — Hamas has been holding secret political talks with five European Union member states in recent months, a senior official in the Islamic militant group told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
If confirmed, such talks would be a sign that the isolation of the Gaza-based Palestinian movement is easing in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings that have brought Islamists to power in parts of the Middle East.
The EU and the U.S consider Hamas a terror group and refuse to deal with it unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel.
However, the West is reassessing its Mideast policy following the uprisings of the past year that toppled several pro-Western regimes in the region and gave rise to the Hamas parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood.
It appeared possible that some EU member states are now softening their approach toward Hamas.
In an interview Wednesday, Beirut-based Hamas official Osama Hamdan said his group has been talking to government officials from five major EU member states in recent months. He would not list the countries.
“I can say it’s an important level (of officials), without defining whether it’s junior or senior, and the channels are working,” said Hamdan, who handles the group’s foreign relations and spoke at a Hamas office in Beirut’s southern Dahiya neighborhood. “It’s not just a contact. It’s channels of talking.”
Hamas won Palestinian parliament elections in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip by force a year later. Since then, the West has demanded that the group recognize Israel and renounce violence, in exchange for international acceptance. The Islamists, whose top leaders live outside the Palestinian territories, have largely observed an unofficial truce with Israel in recent years but balk at recognizing Israel.
Hamdan is the first Hamas official to speak publicly and in some detail about purported contacts with Western governments.
In Gaza, three Hamas officials said Britain, France and the Netherlands are among the countries involved in backchannel talks. Two also mentioned Austria, and one added Sweden to the list. The officials said talks have been held in Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomatic contacts.
Officials in Britain, France, Austria and the Netherlands denied their governments are conducting talks with Hamas, while officials in Sweden could not immediately be reached for comment.
In the backchannel talks, Hamas is seeking assurances that European countries will recognize the outcome of future Palestinian elections, Hamdan said. It’s not clear when such elections would be held, since they are linked to a stalled reconciliation agreement between Hamas and its main rival, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“They have to accept the Palestinian democracy,” Hamdan said of the international community. “We believe that if … they are ready to accept the results, regardless to the names and the organizations, that would be fine for the Palestinians.”
Hamdan said he believes the changes in the region, with its resurgence of Islamist movements, have prompted some European countries to review their policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Hamas. “I think the Europeans also understand that if they want to deal with the region in the Arab Spring, they will face big questions from the region toward the Palestinian cause,” he said.
Hamdan said European officials keep bringing up the issue of recognition of Israel in backchannel talks, but that Hamas won’t budge.
Hamdan and others in Hamas argue that recognition cannot be granted as long as Israel controls war-won territories the Palestinians want for a state. The Hamas founding charter calls for Israel’s destruction. In recent years, senior Hamas officials held out the possibility of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but they refuse to say this could be the permanent solution to the conflict.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he couldn’t confirm European meetings with Hamas. The group can only play a role if it meets the long-standing demands by the international community, he said.
Media Release, PalThink
December 1, 2012
Last Wednesday, 28th November 2012, Pal-Think for Strategic Studies hosted a meeting at its premises in Gaza between high-level delegation from the EU headed by Mr. John [Gatt-]Rutter the EU representative to the Palestinian territories and other colloquies. And a group of Palestinians activists and intellectuals . Mr. [Gatt-]Rutter was accompanied by Mr. Sergio Piccolo head of EU operations, Ms. Semi De Wing from the EU representative office and Mr. Ayman Ftaiha director of EU Office in Gaza.
The visit of the EU delegates to the Gaza Strip came after the end of the recent Israeli escalation on the Gaza Strip, which lasted eight days causing great losses between civilians and destroying hundreds of buildings and infrastructure. Mr. Rutter re-affirmed the EU’s commitment to continue its support for the Palestinian people, and to help the Gaza Strip in the reconstruction of the damage caused by the recent Israeli war of destruction of infrastructure.
The EU delegate met with a group of Palestinian intellectuals . the meeting aimed to examine way and ideas on how the EU can support the people in the Gaza Strip.
At the end of the meeting, Mr. Omer Sha’ban director of Pal-Think for Strategic Studies appreciated very much the visit of the EU which enhance the depth and durability of European-Palestinian relationships, and praising the crucial role played by the Europe Union in support the Palestinian territories. He criticized the unbalanced position of the European Union which was released by Ms. Catherine Ashton high representative of the foreign policy in the European Union from the Israeli escalation against the Gaza Strip.
By Andrew Rettman, EU Observer
December 03, 2012
GAZA – The Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, has appealed to the EU to take his political and militant group, Hamas, off its terrorist register.
Speaking to a delegation of visiting parliamenterians from Poland, Portugal and the UK in Gaza on Sunday (2 December), he said: “It is time to remove the Palestinian resistance from the terrorist list. Hamas is a national liberation movement which operates only inside the borders of Palestine.”
“We would like you to send a message from under the rubble which you have seen here, that we are not terrorists,” he added.
His spokesman, Taher Nouno, told EUobserver: “We want a direct dialogue with European leaders so that they can hear from us, not just to hear about us.”
“This dialogue is very important. Maybe we can change our minds on some issues and maybe European countries can change their minds on some issues,” he noted.
The EU designated Hamas as a terrorist entity in 2003 during a suicide bombing campaign in Israel.
The decision means it cannot meet with EU officials or EU countries’ diplomats and that the Palestinian diaspora in Europe is forbidden from sending it money.
Communication channels do exist.
For example, Hamas meets with Norwegian, Swiss and UN diplomats, who in turn speak with EU foreign ministries.
But the EU’s main partner on the conflict is the Palestinian Authority, a body dominated by Fatah, a rival and more moderate Palestinian group, which holds sway in the West Bank.
The EU has three conditions for Hamas to get off the register: to renounce the use of violence, to recognise Israel’s right to exist and to abide by international agreements, such as the 1993 Oslo Accord on the creation of a Palestinian state via bilateral talks with Israel.
Haniyeh on Sunday made some conciliatory remarks.
He said he accepts a two-state solution based on 1967 borders. “We do not oppose this and we are willing to work for this at this stage,” he noted.
His words amount to a recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the confinement of Palestine to a fraction of its historical territory even though the Hamas charter officially calls for the destruction of Israel.
But his other statements were more hostile.
He said he has no faith in solving the conflict through talks with Israel.
“It has been 20 years since the negotiations began, but they have not brought our people any results. During the negotiations, Israeli settlements have increased, the separation wall was built, Jerusalem has been judaised and Gaza has been put under a blockade,” he noted.
“Israel is not a partner for peace. It wants a peace process, but not peace … If peace negotiations have not brought any results, isn’t it our right to use other options?” he added.
He also indicated the Palestinian Authority should use its recently won right to file cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Referring to last month’s fighting – in which Hamas rockets killed six Israelis and Israeli jets killed over 180 Palestinians – he accused Israel of “war crimes.”
“It is time after all these atrocities that Israeli war criminals are brought to justice,” he said.
Some European politicians believe the EU should start talking to Hamas without preconditions.
Pat Sheehan – an MP in the devolved parliament in Belfast and a former Irish Republican Army hunger striker – said the peace process would not have worked in Northern Ireland if the British government had not sat around a table with people whom it called “terrorists.”
Referring to the EU’s demands for delisting Hamas, he told EUobserver: “You don’t ask for trust at the start of the process. It comes at the end of the process.”
There is also interest in better contact in diplomatic circles in Brussels.
One senior EU diplomatic source told this website: “We have to have a clear signal from [Hamas] that they have changed. But there hasn’t been any engagement for years so we don’t know what they really want and so we are going round in circles.”
The contact noted there is zero chance of all 27 EU countries agreeing to delist it in the foreseeable future, however.
He added that the best prospect for dialogue is if Hamas forms part of a unity government with Fatah and talks to the EU through the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas.
“The only real answer is reconciliation behind Abbas,” he said.
Notes and Links
Council for European Palestinian Relations
The Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) is an independent not-for-profit organisation which has been established to promote dialogue and understanding between European, Palestinian and Arab parliamentarians and policy-makers. It seeks a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on justice and the restoration of Palestinian rights in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.
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Peace based on justice and the restitution of Palestinian rights
Respect for international law, the United Nations Charter, UN Resolutions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
A more robust EU foreign policy to the Occupied Palestinian Territories that will promote and defend Palestinian rights and self-determination
Inter-governmental dialogue to facilitate diplomacy and a greater understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To strengthen European-Palestinian relations and provide greater understanding of Palestinian issues for legislators and policy-makers
Develop Europe’s role in promoting and defending Palestinian rights
Facilitate parliamentary delegations and dialogue between governments and policy-makers across Europe and the Arab world
Produce accurate, up-to-the-minute research and reports to highlight the situation confronting Palestinians.
The CEPR organises delegations of European parliamentarians and policy-makers to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories and neighbouring countries which host Palestinian refugees. This enables delegates to witness at first-hand the situation confronting Palestinians and to gather information so that they can pursue policy changes from an informed and evidence-based perspective.
The CEPR is funded by individual donations from around the world in compliance with Belgian and UK legal requirements. It does not accept funds from any individuals or bodies whose objectives are inimical to the interests of peace and justice.
PalThink for strategic studies is a ‘Gaza-based think and do tank’. It publishes many strategic policy documents here.