EU countries practice 'secret' diplomacy, Hamas says
EU Observer (Link) - Andrew Rettman (September 14, 2009)
High-ranking officials from European countries hold talks with Hamas on a weekly basis despite an EU ban on diplomatic contact, a spokesman for the group has told EUobserver.
"We meet a lot of them from France, from Spain, from Germany, from Italy, from England, from Luxembourg. When they listen to us and we spend a couple of hours with them, they understand what is the real image of Hamas," the group's spokesman, Ghazi Hamad, told this website in a telephone interview on Saturday (12 September).
"None of them are ministers in their governments ... some of them are ambassadors. Some are assistants to ambassadors," he said. "Some of them are very close to the president of their country, or to the foreign minister."
Any high-level European visits would go against the spirit of a 2006 EU decision to halt talks with the militant organisation. The EU in 2003 also listed Hamas as a terrorist entity, putting a legal block on financial assistance.
"I can't give any names," Mr Hamad said. "Most of them want to keep it a secret. They want to continue contact but they don't want to be pestered by the Israeli authorities when they come."
He referred to Germany's work in negotiations on the release of Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit, revealed last month by Egypt, as an example of useful European intervention.
"The Germans have come as a mediator. They try to contribute, to help with their experience of prisoner exchanges. Everybody sees that these people have an important role," Mr Hamad said.
Hamas sees the European Union as a more neutral party than the US in the Middle East peace process. But it is critical of the EU's acceptance of a US "monopoly" on the talks. It is also aggrieved at what it sees as EU double standards in maintaining normal relations with Israel.
"When I met [EU foreign relations chief] Mr Javier Solana in 2005, I told him: 'Why do you put Hamas in the terrorist list and at the same time you say that the [Israeli] assassination policy is not legal, that building settlements is not legal, that building the wall in the West Bank is not legal? So why don't you impose sanctions on Israel, or isolate Israel?' He kept silent," Mr Hamad said.
"The last war in Gaza should give a red light to the Europeans that this country is not normal. They killed 1,500 people in 20 days," he added, in reference to Israel's Operation Cast Lead in January. "Why did the EU keep silent on this? Many friends of mine were killed. Many friends. Innocent people, who have no connection to Hamas."
Mr Hamad warned that if the EU revives a 2008 plan to upgrade diplomatic ties with Israel, it would damage links with Arab states.
"I think this would have very bad consequences on the relationship between Europeans and the Arabs and Muslims," he said. "The EU must understand that Hamas is a big organisation now, a political player. Many countries in the Arabic and Muslim world respect Hamas."
The EU has said it is willing to lift the 2006 diplomatic ban if Hamas accepts Israel's right to exist and renounces violence.
But aside from the technical requirements, the EU and Israel portray Hamas as extremists who murder political opponents and who subscribe to a 1988 charter containing prophecies of an Islamic state and anti-Semitic language about Jewish plots to rule the world.
Under Cover of War
A recent Human Rights Watch report said that masked gunmen went on a killing spree in Gaza during and after Operation Cast Lead.
The gunmen murdered 32 people, mostly suspected of collaborating with Israel, between 27 December and 31 March, the report said. Gunmen also inflicted bullet wounds on the legs of 49 people, mostly linked to the rival Palestinian group, Fatah, in January.
Mr Hamad admitted that "some people" broke Palestinian law. But he said that Hamas authorities have tried to curb internecine attacks.
"We made some mistakes. But this is not our policy. Our government is against all kinds of torture. We punished many people from the government, from Hamas itself," he said.
The spokesman described the 1988 charter as an anachronism which is no longer politically relevant.
"Many changes have taken place in Hamas since 1988 and you have to take this into account. This [the charter] is not a reference for Hamas policy, especially in recent times," he said. "Hamas today is more open, more pragmatic. We are not against Jewish people. We are not against Jews because they are Jewish. We are against the occupation."