Sir, If every crisis is also an opportunity, it is now time to rethink the strategy for achieving peace in the Middle East. The latest and bloodiest conflict between Israel and Hamas has demonstrated that the policy of isolating Hamas cannot bring about stability. 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.
An Israeli–Palestinian peace settlement without Hamas will not be possible. As the Israeli general and statesman Moshe Dayan said: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” There can be no meaningful peace process that involves negotiating with the representative of one part of the Palestinians while simultaneously trying to destroy the other.
Whether we like it or not, Hamas will not go away. Since its victory in democratic elections in 2006, Hamas has sustained its support in Palestinian society despite attempts to destroy it through economic blockades, political boycotts and military incursions. This approach is not working; a new strategy must be found. 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 Quartet conditions imposed on Hamas set an unworkable threshold from which to commence negotiations. The most important first step is for Hamas to halt all violence as a precondition for their inclusion in the process. Ending their isolation will in turn help in reconciling the Palestinian national movement, a vital condition for meaningful negotiations with Israel.
We have learnt first-hand that there is no substitute for direct and sustained negotiations with all parties to a conflict, and rarely if ever a durable peace without them. Isolation only bolsters hardliners and their policies of intransigence. Engagement can strengthen pragmatic elements and their ability to strike the hard compromises needed for peace.
The new US Administration and the appointment of George Mitchell as the Middle East envoy give hope that a new strategy grounded in realism and not ideology will be pursued. Without this, there will be no two-state solution and no peace and security for either Israelis or Palestinians. We must recognise that engaging Hamas does not amount to condoning terrorism or attacks on civilians. In fact, it is a precondition for security and for brokering a workable agreement.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon
Dr Shlomo Ben-Ami (Israel Foreign Minister, 2000-01)
Betty Bigombe (former Uganda Government minister)
Alvaro de Soto (UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Envoy to the Quartet, 2005-07).
Gareth Evans (Australian Foreign Minister, 1988-96)
Peter Gastrow (former Member of Parliament in South Africa and member of the National Peace Committee and the National Peace Secretariat)
Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin member of the Northern Ireland Assembly)
John Hume (Leader of the Social
Democratic Liberal Party of Northern Ireland, 1979-2001)
Dr Ram Manikkalingam (Founder of the Dialogue Advisory Group)
Lord Patten of Barnes