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Stephen Crabb MP: My colleagues on the international development committee are wrong to back talks with Hamas

Crabbstephen2 Stephen Crabb has bravely dissented from a report from the Commons' International Development that calls for direct talks with the terrorists of Hamas.  ConservativeHome congratulates him on his dissent and publishes this explanation from the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire:

Hamas is a violent and ruthless offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood movement.  Rejection and destruction of Israel is a core element of its rock hard ideology. In its twenty years of existence it has established a menacing track record in carrying out terrorist atrocities.  It also provides cover for groups like Islamic Jihad to carry out their own attacks, especially at times when Hamas agrees to a ceasefire.

It was a Hamas crew that pulled off the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit in June 2006 (still being held) which precipitated another round of fighting between Israel and Palestinians that summer. Unsurprisingly, Hamas receives hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the Iranian government – some of which is used to fund a programme of ‘hate education’ among Palestinian children.

But, whether we like it or not, Hamas now runs Gaza.

It surprised many by winning the 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council over a corrupt Fatah and, following the collapse of the Government of National Unity, seized control of Gaza in a bloody shoot-out with Fatah security forces. They won at the ballot-box and then showed they had the muscle in Gaza City. More than a third of all the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories now live under the rule of Hamas.

The response of the international community has been to isolate Hamas diplomatically and economically while trying to find ways to ensure that the Palestinian people are not made to suffer.  Israel, which faces daily Qassam rocket attacks from inside Gaza, has gone further by trying to physically isolate Hamas through a painful blockade which has reduced to a trickle the flow of goods going into Gaza.   

In a rare show of international unity, the Quartet of the US, EU, Russia and the UN laid down three principles which Hamas should accept before it is brought into the negotiating tent: rejection of violence, recognition of Israel, and respect for previous Israel-Palestinian peace agreements. This consensus is creaking.

When I asked Tony Blair, the Quartet’s Special Representative in the Occupied Territories, if he believes a peace deal can be struck which does not include Hamas he more or less held to the Quartet line in his reply. But he is thought to question the wisdom of the strategy and is coming under huge pressure to come out in favour of formal talks with Hamas even though Hamas rejects the Quartet principles.

The House of Commons International Development Committee has today followed the Foreign Affairs Committee in advocating positive engagement with Hamas. Aside from the fact that it is not the role of the IDC to venture into foreign policy issues, its conclusion about Hamas is as wrong-headed and dangerous as that of the Foreign Affairs Committee. But, unlike the Foreign Affairs report, the IDC recommendation was not unanimous.

The MPs who signed up to this try to have it both ways by saying that Hamas eventually will need to accept the Quartet principles but that this should not stop some form of dialogue starting now. And besides, they continue, there are already back-channel talks happening.

Previous back-channel communications with Hamas have actually achieved very little. Ceasefires, like the one brokered recently by Egypt, have never amounted to anything more than a breather in the cycle of violence and bloodshed.  The space gained is for re-arming, re-training and fundraising, not to engage in a process that might just deliver peaceful statehood for the Palestinians. If this one delivers more then it will not have been as a result of a softening of the Quartet principles.

Proponents of ‘talks now’ enthusiastically refer to the ‘lessons from Northern Ireland’ and, in so doing, rely on a questionable interpretation of the sequence of steps leading to the conclusion of the peace process there. In any case, Gaza is not Belfast, nor even South Armagh.  Blair publicly maintains that the Northern Ireland experience actually supports the Quartet approach.

A more pertinent lesson comes from Lebanon where Hezbollah operates both as an armed terrorist group (recently proscribed by our government) and also as a legitimate party in the democratic process (and is praised by many for its social welfare achievements). The lesson is this: political participation of itself does not moderate extremism or reduce capacity and willingness to engage in violence.

The international community must not allow Hamas to replicate the tactics of Hezbollah which has become an immovable blight on Lebanon. Many governments in the Middle East and throughout the world had their fingers crossed that Israel would inflict a heavy defeat on Hezbollah in 2006 and it did not happen. (The old game of governments wanting Israel to be the regional firefighter while, at the same time, painting it as the arsonist did not work and it will not work in the coming conflict with Iran).

It is telling that some of the very same people pushing for a warming of relations with Hamas are dead set against good relations with Israel. They support the boycott, divestment and sanctions agenda. This was partially reflected in the International Development Committee’s negative comments about the hugely practical and sensible EU-Israel Association Agreement.

Some are zealous in their advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian people and deserve credit for keeping a spotlight on the suffering of Palestinians. To stand in Israel and look over into the West Bank is to look from the First World into the Third World and that cannot be acceptable.

But it is one of the gross caricatures made of those who publicly defend Israel’s security concerns that they are somehow less committed to the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians we met in East Jerusalem during a Conservative Friends of Israel visit in 2006 made a huge impression on me.  In describing how they felt let down both by the international community and by their own leaders, the sense of abandonment and hopelessness conveyed was enormous.

But we do Palestinians a disservice if we allow Hamas to come to the table while it continues to carry the tools of violence and calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and a genocide of Jewish people.

There is nothing pro-Palestinian about legitimising the negotiating position of a foreign-backed armed group which attacks border crossings to disrupt the very humanitarian aid so badly needed by Palestinians, which is pursuing a systematic programme of indoctrination of children in martyrdom theology, and which launches near-daily rocket attacks on Israeli citizens.

There are no simple solutions to the hard politics of the Israel-Palestine situation.

Fudging the Quartet principles now may appear attractive to those who are desperate to break the gridlock. But the consequences would be disastrous - for Israelis in Sderot facing Qassam attacks, for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the peace effort he has been trying to sustain, and also for the people of Gaza living in a terrorist statelet.


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