Monday, July 27, 2009

UK Parliamentary Committee: Talk to Hamas

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons recommended in a report released today that Britain engage in talks with moderate elements of Hamas, noting that the current Israeli and Western approach of shunning the Islamist militant has not achieved any success. The committee also expressed regret that British-supplied weapons were used by Israel in the attack on Gaza this past winter. The House of Commons members, representing all three major British parties, join a former US undersecretary of state Thomas Pickering and a quartet of American elder statesmen--former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, and former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski--in calling for talks with Hamas.

The British speak from experience here. Britain long denounced the Irish independence party Sinn Fein and its military wing, the Irish Republican Army, as "terrorists" who could not be negotiated with. But informal contacts with the IRA in the late 1980s led to open talks in the 1990s and then the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement. Since then, British controlled Northern Ireland has enjoyed peace and increasing prosperity, while the province's long-suffering Catholics have achieved far greater political and social rights. There have been steps toward intercommunal reconciliation and greater trust building between all sides. In the past few years, the British army has withdrawn many of their forces from Northern Ireland while the IRA has announced that the armed struggle is over and destroyed its weapons. Such an outcome in the Middle East seems unthinkable today, but it did in the north of Ireland two decades ago too.