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What has Blair got to offer Hamas?

Articles from The Independent (1 and 3) and Middle East Eye.


Tony Blair at an economic conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, March 2015. The former PM was then expected to amend his role as a Middle East peace envoy. He was widely written off at the time as having no role to play in the Middle East. Photo by Hassan Ammar/AP

Tony Blair and Hamas: Militant Palestinian group confirms meetings with former PM – and says ceasefire deal with Israel is possible

Senior Hamas figure tells The Independent why Blair has become a key go-between in the increasingly positive negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government

By Ben Lynfield, Ramallah, The Independent
August 21, 2015

Hamas, the militant Palestinian group in control of Gaza, believes there is a chance to reach a long-term ceasefire deal with Israel if the Jewish state takes steps to improve the lives of Gazans, a senior figure within the organisation has told The Independent.

Hassan Yousef, a founder of the group and one of its senior leaders in the West Bank, said Israel’s agreement to its demands would need to be backed up by international guarantees, as he confirmed reports that Hamas had held meetings with Tony Blair over the past three months. “We are waiting for Israeli answers,” he said, after the exiled Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal set out the group’s conditions in contacts that included two meetings with Mr Blair.

The former Prime Minister, who stepped down in May as the official Middle East envoy of the “Quartet” group – the United Nations, the US, the European Union and Russia – had been previously unable to meet Hamas, which is officially regarded as a terror organisation. Mr Yousef described the talks with him as an “exchange of ideas”.

Mr Yousef said there were also contacts and exchanges of views earlier this year with Robert Serry, the former UN co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process but he insisted there were no negotiations with Israel currently under way. Rather, he said: “There are some European parties that observe the situation in Gaza very closely. They know the danger of it and they made their moves for a truce to prevent a potential explosion.

“There were ideas that were presented to Hamas, and the Hamas leadership gave ideas and proposals and said that an agreement would have to be according to our conditions, to be written and to have international guarantees.” Asked whether the ball was now in Israel’s court, Mr Yousef said: “Certainly.” Mr Yousef, 61, a Palestinian MP who was expelled by Israel to Lebanon in 1992, has spent a total of 17 years in Israeli jails and only in May was released from a year of detention without charge. He has nine children, the oldest of whom, Mosab, became an informer to Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, converted to Christianity and in 2010 was granted political asylum in the US.

Considered a relative moderate within the militant fundamentalist movement, Mr Yousef received The Independent in his office, his manner warm and self-assured despite the very real possibility that he could be rearrested at any moment.

The Israeli army, which retains security dominance in the West Bank despite nominal Palestinian self rule, often enters Palestinian areas to carry out arrests.


Hamas official Hassan Yousef at his office in Ramallah, July 30, 2015. Photo by Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel

Mr Yousef listed Hamas’s conditions for a Gaza truce as: Israel ending the siege it has imposed on the coastal enclave since Hamas seized power there in 2007; “finding a solution to the difficult living conditions” of Gaza’s 1.8 million inhabitants; reconstruction of Gaza after the damage wrought during last summer’s devastating war; establishing a naval passage for goods and people to move freely in and out of the enclave by sea, “so that people won’t be at the mercy of the occupation which shuts down borders”.

“There is a need to solve the problems of the people in Gaza because the situation there is like a big barrel of explosives and gunpowder,” Mr Yousef said. “It could explode at any second, and this is not in the interest of anyone. Practically, if the Israeli occupation agrees on solving these problems, there is a chance for a truce.”

Mr Yousef said international guarantees would be necessary because Israel had violated previous deals with Hamas, including the rearrest of some 70 Palestinians freed in a 2011 swap, in which 1,027 prisoners were freed in exchange for the return of the captured Israeli army Corporal Gilad Shalit.

“The guarantees could come from Turkey, or any European party or country that can guarantee that Israel will respect its pledges,” he said. Turkey is also playing a role in attempts to reach a long-term ceasefire deal and Mr Meshaal held talks on it in discussions in Ankara last week, according to Turkish officials.

The Israeli government denies that it has entered negotiations with Hamas, though the Haaretz newspaper reported that Mr Netanyahu had made clear to Mr Blair that he was willing to listen to any results of his efforts. Israeli analysts note that for Mr Netanyahu, a Gaza truce with Hamas would have the advantage of buying Israel respite from the rocket attacks that afflict its civilians, without requiring any territorial concessions.

Israel would need to cede occupied land to the Palestinians in order to forge an agreement with the more moderate Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Yousef conceded that Hamas was not insisting on some of the demands made by Mr Abbas as its price for a Gaza truce – including that Israel halt its expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“We are talking about a solution to the daily life problems of the people of the Gaza Strip,” he said.

He gave credit to Mr Blair for departing from his stance as Quartet envoy, when he followed its policy of shunning Hamas.

“For him to reach the conviction that the Quartet’s conditions were unjust, and to look for another way that recognises the reality of Gaza and the need to solve the people’s problems and reach a truce with Israel – this is undoubtedly progress,” he said.

“We don’t care about it being Blair or other people, we only care about solving the people’s problems. We are interested in calmness and a truce, and we are not interested in any way in another war or escalation.

“You can call it a calming, a ceasefire or a small peace process – the name is not important. The most important thing is that we won’t have war, we won’t have confrontation or explosion and people won’t suffer more. We want our people to live in normal conditions fit for humans in any other place in the world.”



Khaled Meshaal, Hamas Politburo chief, at a Doha news conference, July 2014. Photo by Reuters.

Hamas rejects Blair’s offer of a UK visit for Gaza negotiations

The head of Hamas’ Political Bureau rejected the offer, which was apparently made with the knowledge of the British Prime Minister

By David Hearst, Middle East Eye
August 20, 2015

Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, has turned down, for now, the offer made by Tony Blair, the former Middle East envoy for the Quartet, of an official visit to London to continue negotiations about a long term ceasefire in Gaza.

Blair and Meshaal have met four times in Doha and the proposed visit to London was not discussed at their last meeting. But the offer of a visit was firm and a specific date in June was proposed, informed sources told Middle East Eye.

Blair and the officials accompanying him left Meshaal with the understanding that the offer of a visit to London was an official one, with the knowledge of the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Americans.

MEE first reported the ongoing meetings between Blair and Meshaal in June.

An Israeli official involved in the Doha dialogue told Haaretz that before his first meeting with Meshaal, Blair “invited himself” to a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made clear that he was not authorising him to convey messages to Hamas. But Netanyahu saw Blair’s talks as a feasibility study.

Other Israeli officials told Haaretz that Blair had made no progress in the talks. The ideas raised – a five year cease-fire, an international plan to rebuild Gaza, opening a port in Gaza, or using a port in Cyprus under international supervision – “had all been raised before”.

The offer divided Hamas, according to informed sources. There were those who believed that the visit in itself would have marked a major propaganda coup for the organisation, and would have been the prelude to removing Hamas from the European Union list of terrorist organisations.

Others, however, argued that the visit was a trap that would suck Hamas into the failed Oslo process, exchanging an end to the armed resistance to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories for a sea and airport in Gaza.

There were also doubts about Blair’s motives, his personal and business contacts in the Middle East, his association with the United Arab Emirates, which is sheltering the former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, and his consultancy work for the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Azzam Tamimi [above], who is a personal friend of Khaled Meshaal, told Al-Risalah Net that Hamas had requested a delay until a clear formulation of the ceasefire proposal was formed. He said Hamas did not want these talks to be an extension of the Oslo process, or an attempt to revive an agreement that had already failed.

Tamimi, who has been briefed on the ongoing discussions, argued that the visit should have gone ahead. He said it was in the interests of the movement to accept the offer irrespective of the results. What was going on at the moment was nothing more than an “exploration of and search for possibilities of resolving the current crisis in the Strip”.

Added complications

He said that of all the interested parties, the Palestinian Authority was the most opposed to these talks because it considered itself the sole party authorised to conclude international agreements on the Palestinian issue.

“Israel wants an agreement that intensifies the split between Gaza and the West Bank, and that is what Tony Blair is doing,” Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestine Liberation Organisation legislator and senior spokeswoman, told The Independent. “Maintaining and intensifying the split would spell the end of a unified, viable Palestinian state.”

Of the former Prime Minister, she added: “Blair is the last person qualified to be a mediator. We know whose side he is on and has been from the beginning. I don’t believe he moves without [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s approval. He’s looking after Israel’s interests.”

Tamimi said the central logjam in the talks was Blair’s wish for the process to result in a Hamas statement that acknowledges, directly or indirectly, the importance of going back to negotiations.

Hamas refuses to do this, saying it had nothing to do with Oslo, but would be willing to reach an understanding about the lifting of the siege in return for a truce.

A truce in Gaza could be used as a template for an Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

News of the offer of a London visit will further complicate the long-delayed publication of the report by Sir John Jenkins into the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain.

The report is understood to reject the claim of any link between the Brotherhood and terrorist acts in Egypt, but is expected to argue that its network of organisations in Britain is not conducive to the public good.

Much of that argument will be based on support the Brotherhood in Britain gives to Hamas, according to a well-informed source.

The revelation that Blair, with the full knowledge of Cameron, has invited the political head of Hamas to Britain will complicate the British prime minister’s attempts to fold the Jenkin’s report into a package of anti-extremist measures in September.



“Israel wants an agreement that intensifies the split between Gaza and the West Bank, and that is what Tony Blair is doing,” says Hanan Ashrawi, PLO executive member, here at a press conference on February 24, 2015 in Ramallah. Photo by Abbas Momani / AFP

Palestinians attack Tony Blair for helping Israel strike ‘secret peace deal’ with Hamas

Former prime minister is reportedly acting as go-between in secret talks aimed at lifting the blockade of Gaza, holding talks with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Qatar

By Ben Lynfield, Jerusalem, The Independent
August 19, 2015

Palestinian officials have accused Tony Blair of serving Israeli interests and undermining prospects for a viable Palestinian state by acting as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, the more radical rival group which controls Gaza.

Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) legislator and senior spokeswoman, spoke out after it emerged that Mr Blair was attempting to forge a long-term ceasefire deal in Gaza. Under the terms of the agreement, Hamas would commit itself not to attack Israel in exchange for Israel lifting its eight-year siege of the coastal enclave.

“Israel wants an agreement that intensifies the split between Gaza and the West Bank, and that is what Tony Blair is doing,” Ms Ashrawi told The Independent. “Maintaining and intensifying the split would spell the end of a unified, viable Palestinian state.”

Of the former Prime Minister, she added: “Blair is the last person qualified to be a mediator. We know whose side he is on and has been from the beginning. I don’t believe he moves without [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s approval. He’s looking after Israel’s interests.”

Her comments reflect widespread anger on the West Bank that the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, headed by moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, appears to be sidelined by Mr Blair’s diplomacy, which according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is aimed at striking a separate peace between Israel and Hamas.

In two meetings between Mr Blair and Hamas’s political chief, Khaled Meshaal, since May, Mr Blair discussed the reaching of a five-year truce, the lifting of Israel’s siege on Gaza and the establishment of a conduit for goods into and out of the area, probably by sea.

The mooted arrangements give no place to the West Bank, even though PLO agreements with Israel specify that it and Gaza are to be dealt with as a single territorial unit and must be connected by “safe passage” routes through Israeli territory. Gaza effectively split from the West Bank when Hamas staged a coup against Mr Abbas’s forces in 2007 and Israel clamped its siege on Gaza.

“We want to lift the siege, but this should be in conjunction with unification and maintaining the demographic, territorial and economic links with the West Bank,” Ms Ashrawi said.

Haaretz reported that Mr Blair had emerged as the most significant mediator between Israel and Hamas after he resigned in May from his post as the envoy of the international Quartet. In that role he had been bound by the Quartet’s policy of neither recognising nor negotiating with Hamas.

Before his first meeting with Mr Meshaal, in the Qatari capital, Doha, Mr Blair met Mr Netanyahu. Quoting an Israeli source involved in the efforts, Haaretz said that Mr Netanyahu told Mr Blair he did not view him as a mediator or someone who could pass messages back and forth, but would be ready to hear the details if he reached any results.

A statement from Mr Netanyahu’s office on Sunday night said: “There are no meetings with Hamas. There are no direct contacts, no contacts through other countries and no contacts through mediators.”

But the denial was seen as leaving open the possibility there were indirect contacts in the past and could be in the future. Haaretz said that Mr Blair had not achieved results in his two meetings with Mr Meshaal but was keeping up his efforts.

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