Europe and Hamas
by Elliott Abrams
The London newspaper Al Hayat carried a story on February 21 about the intentions of EU states to support Hamas participation in a Palestinian “national unity government.”
It seems that “the European boycott of the Palestinian Government formed by Hamas after winning the 2006 elections will not be repeated,” according to someone described as a “senior European diplomat.” France and Britain want to relaunch the “peace process,” and this time “on a new basis and without preconditions.” The diplomat is quoted as saying “today there exists an international consensus on the need for the establishment of a Palestinian State….we welcome the entry of Hamas into the PLO and the fact that it accepted the PLO charter.”
If the story is accurate, it represents a significant change in EU policy. Previously, the EU–as part of the Quartet, with the United States, Russia, and the UN–had staunchly supported the “three Quartet principles.” These required that Hamas abandon violence and terror, accept all previous Israel-PLO agreements as binding, and accept Israel’s right to exist. Now it seems the Europeans are asking far less of Hamas–in fact, appear to be asking nothing at all before applauding a role in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and in the PLO for what is officially regarded in the EU as in the United States as a terrorist group.
The dangers here are great. In an article in the Weekly Standard, I discussed the legal problems that Hamas’s participation in the PA would create for the United States because it is a terrorist group. In Tested By Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the book I’ve just published, the story of what transpired in 2006 is told. What the Quartet decided then was that Hamas could run in the Palestinian parliamentary elections but could not participate in the government unless it met the three conditions noted above. Hamas refused to meet any of them. It didn’t bargain, nor did it lie; it simply refused. That meant that the Russians and Europeans, whom I thought would have abandoned the “Quartet principles” at the drop of a hat, could not do so; Hamas refused to drop a hat.
Now seven years later, Hamas hasn’t changed but the Europeans may have–and may simply be dropping any conditionality. They appear to believe this is the road to successful peace negotiations. Their theory is that President Abbas and his Fatah Party will be afraid to make the necessary compromises unless they are confident Hamas will back them–instead of accusing them of treason. This may well be true, as far as it goes: Abbas, like Arafat before him, may be afraid to make the necessary compromises. But why do the Europeans, or anyone else, believe that Hamas will back any compromises at all? Will they compromise on Jerusalem? On abandoning the so-called “right of return?” On determining a border that allows the large settlement blocs to become Israeli territory? What’s the basis for that belief? And how can the inclusion in the Palestinian government of a terrorist group that is still committing, and justifying, acts of terror persuade Israelis to make the compromises they would need to make?
I have no secret information telling me whether the Al Hayat story is true or false. But if it is true, the Europeans are heading in very much the wrong direction. Giving Hamas a greater role will make peace even harder to attain, because Hamas does not seek peace.