27th Jun 2022

EU exploring better relations with Hamas

Some EU countries are open-minded about working with the new Palestinian unity government despite the fact Hamas advocates armed resistance against Israel.

Rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas are to sign the unity agreement in Cairo on Wednesday (4 May).

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  • Hamas poster showing Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit. Israel is holding hundreds of Palestinians in jail, including some minors (Photo: Tom Spender)

A Fatah-linked Palestinian diplomat told this website last week the deal includes renouncing the use of violence against Israel. But speaking to EUobserver from Gaza on the eve of the Cairo ceremony, Gaza spokesman Ghazi Hamad said this is not the case.

Hamad said the unity pact will focus on internal Palestinian problems, such as Gaza reconstruction, while leaving the Arab-Israeli conflict to one side. He noted that Hamas is becoming more moderate, but said there is no question of altering its official 1988 charter, which calls for the "obliteration" of Israel.

"Palestine is still under occupation and we will use all means necessary to liberate our people. If things can be solved by non-violence, we have no problem with that. But until now we have no reason to trust Israel or to believe that Israel is willing to end the occupation," he said.

"People talk about the Quartet conditions and the rights of the Israelis all the time. But they forget about the rights of the Palestinians. We are the victims here," he added. The Quartet's - the EU, Russia, the UN and the US - official position is that Hamas must renounce violence before being invited to talks.

Israeli diplomats are urging the EU to boycott the unity government on its existing terms. "We're not asking for the world. Just for them to renounce violence. In European eyes, it should be more than natural to ask for that," an Israeli diplomat said.

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh's statement on Tuesday denouncing the US killing of Osama Bin Laden did nothing to help the group's image in Brussels.

When asked if there is a prospect of the EU removing Hamas from its register of terrorist entities, a senior EU official said: "With Haniyeh yesterday criticising the killing of Bin Laden there isn't going to be anyone arguing for taking them off the list."

EU diplomats are waiting to see what the Fatah-Hamas unity document says in detail and who the new government appoints before taking a formal position at a foreign ministers' meeting on 23 May.

Friends of Israel inside the union, such as the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, are against any flexibility on the Hamas charter.

But an EU source noted that several other countries - including France, Spain and the UK - are more open on the issue. The contact pointed to EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton's cautious statement on the unity pact last week, recalling that Palestinian diplomats at the time remarked: "You were the only ones who didn't condemn this agreement."

A diplomat from a Nordic EU country added: "It's important that we are not being negative. The key is to keep the peace process going on, and the unity government could contribute to that." Remarking on Haniyeh's Bin Laden statement, the source added: "It doesn't have any deep value. It had to be said."

Khalid Turaani, a Palestinian activist with the Brussels-based group Inform, said it is unrealistic to expect Hamas to scrap its charter as a prerequisite for talks.

"Hamas was created to resist the Israeli occupation. If you ask it to take out 'resistance' you are effectively asking it to disintegrate itself. This could only happen as part of a final settlement," he said. "The Arabic idea of 'hudna' or 'temporary peace' could be a way out for them for now."

Turaani added that Haniyeh's statement on Bin Laden was widely mistranslated. Haniyeh used the words "muijahid Arabi" which was reported as "Arab holy warrior" but means simply "Arab fighter."

"Hamas in Gaza is battling a Salafist [Islamic extremist] movement which is gaining some traction. I disagree with it, but I think that's part of the reason he made the Bin Laden statement - to prevent the Salafists from exploiting Bin Laden's death."

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