Daily Israel Report

Britain Moves Closer to Hamas, Backs Direct Talks

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said talking to Hamas “is the right thing to do” but added that Egypt is best situated to do so.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 2/26/2009, 5:56 AM

Israel News Photo: Flash 90

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Reuters on Wednesday that talking with Hamas is “the right thing to do” but added that Egypt, which has taken on the role of acting on Hamas’s behalf, is in a better position to do so. Egypt has been arranging talks between Hamas and Fatah for a new unity Palestinian Authority government and also is mediating discussions between Hamas and Israel, which do not recognize each other.

Miliband’s statement conflicts with his country’s own stand that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Concerning his support for direct Egyptian-Hamas contacts while maintaining Britain’s unwillingness to deal directly with the de facto Gaza government, he explained to Reuters, "We think the Egyptians are the right people to do it and they are doing a good job… They have a very clear and strong interest in the stability ... of Gaza.”

The Foreign Secretary also criticized the Bush administration for ignoring the Middle East, and he welcomed President Barack Obama’s intentions for a more active policy. He said that efforts must be made to unite Gaza with Judea and Samaria under one PA government.

Former British peace negotiators wrote in the Times of London on Wednesday that Hamas should be included in direct peace negotiations. They explained that doing so “does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians.”

The 14 former foreign ministers and negotiators who signed the article include Michael Ancram, who along with United States Middle East envoy George C. Mitchell was involved in peace talks with the IRA in Ireland. The diplomats wrote in the newspaper, "There can be no meaningful peace process that involves negotiating with the representatives of one part of the Palestinians while simultaneously trying to destroy the other.”

Their article in the British newspaper appeared on the eve of the arrival of United States Middle East envoy George C. Mitchell to Israel.