They were part of the peace settlements in Cambodia, Somalia and Bosnia, they negotiated with militant groups like the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or the IRA in Northern Ireland and a few of them were also engaged in the Middle East peace process. Fourteen elder statesmen from Europe, Australia, South America, Africa and Asia are calling in an open letter for the Mideast Quartet, comprised of the European Union, United Nations, Russia and the United States, to end their diplomatic boycott against Hamas.
The signatories of the letter, which is being published exclusively by SPIEGEL ONLINE in Germany and the Times of London on Thursday, include former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami; Alvaro de Soto, who served as the UN envoy for the Middle East Quartet from 2005 to 2007; Lord Chris Patten, the former British governor of Hong Kong and European Commissioner; and Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served as the High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina and oversaw the implementation of the Dayton Accords.
"The latest and bloodiest conflict between Israel and Hamas has demonstrated that the policy of isolating Hamas cannot bring stability," the letter states. "We have learnt first-hand that there is no substitute for direct and sustained negotiations with all parties to a conflict, and rarely if ever a durable peace without them."
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Ben-Ami told SPIEGEL ONLINE the letter was directed equally at the European Union and the United States, but also at Israel. "Israel has to start thinking outside the box. I can recall the case of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO didn't recognize Israel as a precondition, but as a result of the Olso process. The same should happen with Hamas."
Addressing the Gaza War at the start of the year, Ben-Ami said: "Politicians sometimes take the right decision only after they have exhausted all other possibilities." The message of the war, he said, was that "Hamas remains a key factor. Nothing can be done without the involvement of Hamas."
"I think this is a momentous momentum, you have got a changed US administration that is looking for new policies that are different from those of the past."
In addition, he argues that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah represents only "half the Palestinians" and suffers from a "serious lack of legitimacy."
After Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, the Mideast Quartet imposed a political boycott against the Islamist organization that would apply for as long as it failed to accept three conditions: that it recognize Israel, that it abandon the use of violence and that it recognize all previously agreements.
Hamas, which also has a military arm that has been responsible for numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilians, has officially refused to recognize the state of Israel and it continues to claim it has the right to conduct armed battle against Israel. Hamas does not recognize previous peace agreements, including the Oslo Accords of 1993.
After the government Hamas initially set up for the Palestinian territories collapsed, Hamas and the secular-moderate Fatah Movement formed a unity government that also included independents. But that government also ultimately broke apart. Since then, Hamas and Fatah have become bitter enemies. In Summer 2007, Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip, and Fatah continues to control the West Bank.
In addition to the Mideast Quartet, Israel is also maintaining its boycott against Hamas. Currently, however, it is negotiating indirectly over a long-term cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. At the start of this year, Israel waged a three-week war against Hamas in Gaza.
'Yes, Hamas Must Recognize Israel '
The open letter also states that the policy of isolating Hamas has "failed." It goes on to say that, since Hamas was voted into power in the 2006 elections, it has still been able to retain Palestinian support "despite attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts and military incursions." It then states that "a new strategy must be found."
According to the letter's drafters, Hamas must be included in the political process: "Yes, Hamas must recognize Israel as part of a permanent solution, but it is a diplomatic process and not ostracism (sic) that will lead them there."
The document also states that the conditions that the Quartet has placed on Hamas "set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations." To get to the negotiating table, the letter says that Hamas must first "halt all violence," which could in turn help the factionalized Palestinians come together once again. Doing so, according to the letter, is "a vital condition for meaningful negotiations for Israel."
It is with "hope" that the letter's signers look on Washington. As they see it, the new Obama administration and his appointing of George Mitchell to be his Middle East envoy indicate "that a new strategy grounded in realism and not ideology will be pursued."
"Without this," the letter closes, "there will be no two-state solution and no peace and security for either Israelis or Palestinians. We must recognize that engaging Hamas does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians. In fact, it is a precondition for security and for brokering a workable agreement."