Blair urged to open talks with Hamas


London : Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Mike Gapes, Monday urged former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to open talks with Hamas, the democratically elected majority party in Palestine.

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“The appointment of Tony Blair as envoy for the Quartet (UN, EU, US and Russia) presents an opportunity to take a new approach,” the senior Labour MP said.

“The decision not to engage with Hamas after the Mecca agreement has proved to be counterproductive,” he said in an article for the Guardian newspaper.

His call came as the Foreign Affairs Committee described the 18- month international boycott against Hamas as a “failure” and urged the British government to “urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements.”
Gapes said that the “most pressing, and demanding, matter” for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s cabinet was the Palestinian territories.

“Diplomacy in the region has never been easy, but the challenges now in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, set against the backdrop of rising Iranian influence, are particularly daunting,” he said.

The committee chairman suggested that the arrival of Blair as the Quartet’s special envoy may “provide the answer,” also acknowledging the difficulties he faced being what he called “no friend of extreme Islamists.”
“Just as the ardently anti-communist Richard Nixon was best placed to restart America’s relationship with China in the 1970s, Blair may well be in the ideal political position to make a bold move by talking to Hamas,” Gapes suggested.

He said that a new effort is required to re-energise the peace process. He also suggested the UK government should support the special envoy in persuading Israel to move towards formal negotiations with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

But his warning was that in all the discussion, “it is important that Gaza is not left behind and isolated, not least in terms of providing humanitarian assistance to the suffering population.” In its report on ‘Global Security: The Middle East,’ the Foreign Affairs committee warned that the UK’s reputation was damaged when the British government, under Blair, hesitated in calling for an immediate end to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon war last year.

A quicker response from the British government in July last year “could have led to reduced casualties,” which included more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians, it said.

The all-party group of MPs also recommended that the UK applies “strong pressure” on Israel to provide details of the cluster munitions it fired into Lebanon during the invasion, saying it was “inexcusable” and that the Zionist regime should cooperate in this respect.