Hamas appeals for talks with EU diplomats
The Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, has appealed to the EU to take his political and militant group, Hamas, off its terrorist register.
Speaking to a delegation of visiting parliamenterians from Poland, Portugal and the UK in Gaza on Sunday (2 December), he said: "It is time to remove the Palestinian resistance from the terrorist list. Hamas is a national liberation movement which operates only inside the borders of Palestine."
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"We would like you to send a message from under the rubble which you have seen here, that we are not terrorists," he added.
His spokesman, Taher Nouno, told EUobserver: "We want a direct dialogue with European leaders so that they can hear from us, not just to hear about us."
"This dialogue is very important. Maybe we can change our minds on some issues and maybe European countries can change their minds on some issues," he noted.
The EU designated Hamas as a terrorist entity in 2003 during a suicide bombing campaign in Israel.
The decision means it cannot meet with EU officials or EU countries' diplomats and that the Palestinian diaspora in Europe is forbidden from sending it money.
Communication channels do exist.
For example, Hamas meets with Norwegian, Swiss and UN diplomats, who in turn speak with EU foreign ministries.
But the EU's main partner on the conflict is the Palestinian Authority, a body dominated by Fatah, a rival and more moderate Palestinian group, which holds sway in the West Bank.
The EU has three conditions for Hamas to get off the register: to renounce the use of violence, to recognise Israel's right to exist and to abide by international agreements, such as the 1993 Oslo Accord on the creation of a Palestinian state via bilateral talks with Israel.
Haniyeh on Sunday made some conciliatory remarks.
He said he accepts a two-state solution based on 1967 borders. "We do not oppose this and we are willing to work for this at this stage," he noted.
His words amount to a recognition of Israel's right to exist and the confinement of Palestine to a fraction of its historical territory even though the Hamas charter officially calls for the destruction of Israel.
But his other statements were more hostile.
He said he has no faith in solving the conflict through talks with Israel.
"It has been 20 years since the negotiations began, but they have not brought our people any results. During the negotiations, Israeli settlements have increased, the separation wall was built, Jerusalem has been judaised and Gaza has been put under a blockade," he noted.
"Israel is not a partner for peace. It wants a peace process, but not peace ... If peace negotiations have not brought any results, isn't it our right to use other options?" he added.
He also indicated the Palestinian Authority should use its recently won right to file cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Referring to last month's fighting - in which Hamas rockets killed six Israelis and Israeli jets killed over 180 Palestinians - he accused Israel of "war crimes."
"It is time after all these atrocities that Israeli war criminals are brought to justice," he said.
Some European politicians believe the EU should start talking to Hamas without preconditions.
Pat Sheehan - an MP in the devolved parliament in Belfast and a former Irish Republican Army hunger striker - said the peace process would not have worked in Northern Ireland if the British government had not sat around a table with people whom it called "terrorists."
Referring to the EU's demands for delisting Hamas, he told EUobserver: "You don't ask for trust at the start of the process. It comes at the end of the process."
There is also interest in better contact in diplomatic circles in Brussels.
One senior EU diplomatic source told this website: "We have to have a clear signal from [Hamas] that they have changed. But there hasn't been any engagement for years so we don't know what they really want and so we are going round in circles."
The contact noted there is zero chance of all 27 EU countries agreeing to delist it in the foreseeable future, however.
He added that the best prospect for dialogue is if Hamas forms part of a unity government with Fatah and talks to the EU through the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas.
"The only real answer is reconciliation behind Abbas," he said.