The International Crisis Group (ICG) has urged the West to open up to Hamas by pointing out the important role the movement can play in Palestine’s future during the post-Arab spring period. In a report released on Saturday, the ICG said the United States and Europe should seize the opportunity provided by two interrelated developments.
Firstly, it noted the assumption of power by Islamic-movements, especially in Egypt. The report added that generally the movements are keen to improve their relations with the west and are willing to realize stability. The second development, according to the report, is the intensive internal debate taking place within Hamas regarding the direction of the movement.
According to the ICG, “the movement will continue to play a vital role in Palestinian politics which may affect the possibility of renewing Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, as well as the prospects of its success.”
The ICG emphasised that unity between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is not only desirable, but also necessary in order to achieve the two-state solution. Moreover, the geographic separation, accompanied by the continuation of the economic isolation of Gaza, has the potential to intensify the conflict with Israel further. For these reasons, even if Hamas is subject to the influence of third-parties, the West should not overestimate its influence. Although the movement is in a transitional phase, the ICG believes it will not give up its basic positions. Therefore, attempts to force it to accept the terms of the Quartet Commission are totally unacceptable. Instead, through working in coordination with Egypt and others, the United States and the EU should initiate changes that do not end with public statements, but rather changes of practical value that do not constitute an onerous burden on Hamas.
The ICG report further recommended a more formal ceasefire agreement between Israel and Gaza. This would help to stabilise the Sinai significantly – the importance of which was clearly demonstrated by the August 5 attacks on the Egyptian border post. Moreover, it would also enhance the possibility of a national unity agreement and enable President Mahmoud Abbas to engage in final-status agreements with Israel. The outcome of this should be submitted to a referendum among the Palestinian people.
As for Hamas, the ICG report asserted that in return, it could benefit from Israeli guarantees regarding the ceasefire in Gaza and an improvement in the economic situation in the sector. Similarly, they should benefit from assurances by the US and the EU that they will engage with a national-unity government that implements these commitments.