Interesting analysis from the MEC Analytical Group about Britain, Hamas and Hizbollah:
There are indications of some flexibility in British policy towards Hamas and Hizbullah. On 21 May the Foreign Secretary David Miliband made a speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (text here) in which he called for “a coalition of consent” between the West and the Muslim world. “When it comes to Hamas,” he said “no one disputes that they won the most seats. We are not claiming that their election was ‘illegitimate’. We are saying the failure to embrace a political process towards a two-state solution makes normal political relations impossible.”
On 24 May he went a bit further in an interview with the Saudi owned newspaper al-Hayat. This interview has received widespread comment in the region and elsewhere. No English text appears to be available, e.g. on the FCO website or the al-Hayat English-language website. Perhaps as a result it has been misrepresented. For example, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, visiting Damascus on 24 May, was asked to comment on what the questioner described as Miliband’s declaration that “it is time to end Hamas’s isolation and to resume dialogue.” Lavrov replied “I can say that it is better late than never. This should have been done much earlier, back in 2006, when Hamas won in the elections that were recognized as democratic, free and fair. But for reasons of political bias the leadership of western countries did not recognize the Hamas government. It was then that the causes of the crisis arose that we continue to watch around the Gaza Strip. I am convinced that in any conflict it is necessary to involve, rather than isolate all influential parties. This holds for Hamas and for Hezbollah and for Syria.”
We circulate below our own translation of Miliband’s interview (the Arabic text is available here).
Miliband to al-Hayat: Hamas is not Al Qa’ida: we urge armed groups to repudiate violence
Saturday 24 May 2009, Kamil al-Tawil
The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband set out in an interview with al-Hayat the objectives of his new plan for cooperation with the Islamic world which he launched last Thursday at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. He said that he wanted really to address the groups which use violence, to call on them to repudiate it and enter the political process.
Miliband expressed regrets for the errors which had been committed following the attacks of the Al Qaeda organisation in the United States on 11 September 2001. He said that measures taken to combat terrorism had been judged on the basis that they were against Islam. He said that he had been wrong when he spoke about the Islamic world on the basis that it consisted of moderates and extremists, adding that the Islamic world was too large to be encompassed by this division.
He said that another mistake made by the West was to place the Islamic groups which had national objectives within the same framework as Al Qaeda with its world Islamic programme. He explained that the Taliban movement for example was considered as like Al Qaeda, although it was really a number of groups of Pashtun tribes on the Afghan/Pakistan border with purely local aims, whereas Al Qaeda had its world Islamic programme. He said that the Hamas movement in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon could both also be placed within the framework of groups which had a national aim, as he had stated in his speech at Oxford University. He explained, “although there are things in the Hamas constitution which raise question marks about the limits within which its aspirations are contained, it is clear that Hamas is not the same thing as Al Qaeda.”
On Hizbullah he said “our position was always and up to 2005, the date of the assassination of (former prime minister Rafiq) al-Hariri, that we engage in dialogue with Members of Parliament of Hizbullah, and that ceased after the assassination of al-Hariri. The military wing of Hizbullah remains described as a terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom.but we agreed to resume talking to Hizbullah Members of Parliament, partly because Hizbullah has a minister in the Lebanese government which is committed to the Arab peace operation. The result was a single meeting which took place between us and Hizbullah attended by our ambassador at one meeting at which a Hizbullah Member of Parliament was present. The outcome now is that Hizbullah is insisting that at any meeting which takes place with us they should photograph our ambassador, and we refuse to allow the photograph to become part of the election campaign in Lebanon. Therefore meetings will not take place. The Lebanese are the ones to decide on their elections and we will not allow ourselves to intervene in them.
He adds “I want to say to those groups which have militias: stop armed action and commit to political activity. We want people to be respected because of their opinions in the framework of political activity. You can not be half in the framework of political activity and the ballot box, and half outside it with a gun in your hand.”
Miliband acknowledges that the question of Iraq was one of the points of misunderstanding between the Arab world and the Western world but he declares without hesitation “We have said that the peace building operation in Iraq did not proceed as it was supposed to. But I don’t want to look backwards, rather to look to the future. In order to look to the future I must be aware of history. That is what I tried to reflect in my speech. But if we allow ourselves to remain stuck in the past we will achieve nothing.”