Open Letter on Middle East Policy: 'Lasting Peace Only Possible with Hamas On Board'
It is time for the European Union to rethink its policy in the Middle East. That is the demand being made by 24 former heads of government, foreign ministers and peace negotiators. A Hamas recognition of Israel should be the goal rather than the precondition of the peace process, the leaders write in an open letter.
June 10, 2011
Palestinian Unity Is a Prerequisite for Peace with Israel
A new Palestinian government is expected to be formed soon as a result of the agreement recently signed between the main Palestinian factions -- Fatah and Hamas. The new, transitional government composed of independent figures will be tasked to pave the way for the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in May 2012.
Palestinian reconciliation is part of the momentous changes sweeping through the Middle East. Brokered by Egypt following its own revolution and reflecting a strong public desire to overcome the four-year long internal rift, Palestinian unity is a fruit of the "Arab Spring."
As former international leaders and peace negotiators, we have learnt first-hand that achieving a durable peace requires an inclusive approach. We consider it of vital importance that the international community supports Palestinian unity and avoids any steps that could jeopardise the fragile reconciliation process. In particular, we urge the United States and the European Union to constructively engage with the transitional government as well as with the Palestinian leadership that results from the elections next year. This is imperative for the following reasons:
- Firstly, overcoming the political and institutional divide between the West Bank and Gaza is an obvious pre-condition for the establishment of a unified and viable Palestinian state.
- Secondly, a durable settlement with Israel can only be achieved if the Palestinian leadership is able to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians and with the agreement of main political forces. Reconciliation is thus a prerequisite for achieving the two-state solution. It is not an obstacle to it. Asking Fatah to choose between making peace with Hamas and making peace with Israel presents a false choice: a lasting peace with Israel is only possible if Hamas is on board.
'A Chance for Course Correction'
Palestinian reconciliation is also an opportunity to enhance Israel's security. The unity deal could help consolidate a ceasefire, preventing renewed attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians. An exchange of Palestinian prisoners for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit could be another positive off-shoot of the agreement.
The opportunity presented by the unity deal must be seized without repeating past mistakes. In 2006, following the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian election, the US and the EU opted for political and financial boycott. In hindsight, those policies were a major setback for the peace process by exacerbating Palestinian divisions and entrenching the blockade of Gaza.
The new unity deal and the developments in the wider region offer a chance for course correction by the US and the EU. The so-called Quartet principles including recognition of Israel should be treated as goals rather than preconditions of engagement with the Palestinian leadership and factions. Adherence to a ceasefire and non-violence is a realistic threshold from which to commence negotiations.
By supporting Palestinian unity at this vital juncture, the US and the EU have an opportunity to show their commitment to the two-state solution as well as to the democratic aspirations currently being voiced throughout the broader Middle East. The alternative is hard to contemplate. If Palestinian reconciliation is undermined, it will throw the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into an even deeper impasse, with dramatic consequences for all parties and the international community at large.
LIST OF SIGNATORIES
Dries van Agt: Former Prime Minister, the Netherlands.
Lord John Alderdice: Former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Massimo d'Alema: Former Prime Minister, Italy.
Frans Andriessen: Former Finance Minister, the Netherlands; former Vice-President of the European Commission.
Halldór Ásgrímsson: Former Prime Minister, Iceland; Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
Hanan Ashrawi: Former spokesperson of the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East peace process.
Shlomo Ben-Ami: Former Foreign Minister, Israel.
Betty Bigombe: Ugandan politician, former chief LRA - Uganda government negotiator.
Laurens Jan Brinkhorst: Former Vice-Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
Hans van den Broek: Former Foreign Minister, the Netherlands; former EU Commissioner for External Relations.
Uffe Ellemann-Jensen: Former Foreign Minister, Denmark.
Gareth Evans: Former Foreign Minister, Australia.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock: Former UK Ambassador to the United Nations.
Lena Hjelm-Wallén: Former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Sweden.
Ioannis Kasoulides: Former Foreign Minister, Cyprus.
Mogens Lykketoft: Former Foreign Minister, Denmark.
Ram Manikkalingham: Former Senior Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka on the peace process with the Tamil Tigers.
Louis Michel: Former Foreign Minister, Belgium; former EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid.
Poul Nyrup Rassmussen: Former Prime Minister, Denmark.
Elisabeth Rehn: Former Minister of Defense, Finland; former UN Under-Secretary General.
Alvaro de Soto: Former UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
Thorvald Stoltenberg: Former Minister of Defense and of Foreign Affairs, Norway; former UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Erkki Tuomioja: Former Foreign Minister, Finland.
Hubert Védrine: Former Foreign Minister, France.
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Hamas is a militant organization, a political party and a social welfare organization all in one. (At left, a Hamas supporter holding up a Koran at a demonstration in Hebron in May.) After the group won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the European Union, the US, Russia and the Quartet on the Middle East chose to shun the group as long as it refused to fulfil three conditions:
- the recognition of Israel's right to exist
- the renouncement of violence
- and the recognition of established treaties.
Hamas, whose military wing is responsible for numerous terror attacks on Israeli targets, has recently steered a more moderate course. But it has yet to officially recognize Israel.
After an initial Hamas government disintegrated, the group formed a unity government with the moderate-secular Fatah movement. But that government disintegrated as well. The two groups subsequently fought over control of the Palestinian Territories before Hamas ultimately gained control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and Fatah gained the upper hand in the West Bank.
At the end of April this year, Fatah and Hamas unexpectedly announced their reconciliation. The plan calls for the creation of a joint government staffed by technocrats with the goal of preparing new elections within a year. The Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by repeating its refusal to negotiate with Hamas.