Ex-peace negotiators urge direct talk with Hamas

Ex-peace negotiators urge direct talk with Hamas

A group of former peace negotiators called in a public letter Thursday for the international community to start engaging directly with Hamas, as the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East.

Ahead of Egypt-brokered reconciliation talks between the Islamist group and rival Palestinian movement Fatah Thursday, mediators from conflicts in Northern Ireland, Cambodia and Bosnia said the policy of isolating Hamas had failed.

Writing in Britain”s Times newspaper, 14 former foreign ministers and peace negotiators said, “as former peace negotiators, we believe it is of vital importance to abandon the failed policy of isolation and to involve Hamas in the political process.”

“There can be no meaningful peace process that involves negotiating with the representatives of one part of the Palestinians while simultaneously trying to destroy the other,” wrote the signatories.

Signatories include former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, former UN Middle East envoy Alvaro de Soto, former EU envoy for Bosnia Paddy Ashdown, and Australian ex-foreign minister and Cambodia peace negotiator Gareth Evans.

Hamas, a resistance group who wages armed struggle against decades of Israel occupation, won a Palestinian parliamentary election in January 2006, defeating long-time rival Fatah.

“This approach is not working; a new strategy must be found,” they said.

“Yes, Hamas must recognise Israel as part of a “permanent solution”, but it is a diplomatic process and not ostracisation that will lead them there.”

The letter”s signatories said Israel”s recent offensive against Gaza had “demonstrated that the policy of isolating Hamas cannot bring about stability”.

“Bringing Hamas into the process does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians,” the letter will say, according to excerpts provided in advance.

“It can strengthen pragmatic elements and their ability to strike the hard compromises needed for peace.”

The letter is published ahead of a visit to the region by George Mitchell, the newly appointed U.S. envoy to the Middle East, and Javier Solana, the European Union”s envoy.

On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that talking to Hamas was the right thing to do but Egypt and other parties were best placed to do so.