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Western policy shift appears in dealings with Hamas

The former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in Gaza's Hamas-led government has claimed that some European countries are preparing to begin direct talks with the Islamic Resistance Movement. Dr. Ahmed Yousef said that this has been confirmed by various European delegations he has met recently. He believes that there appears to be a consensus in the West that the isolation of Hamas following its election success in 2006 was a mistake.

Speaking to Saudi Arabia's Asharq newspaper this week, Dr. Yousef said, "In the light of the changes taking place in the Arab world, which demonstrate that the Arab map now has a Muslim reference, the West will, sooner or later, find that a Muslim majority is running affairs of the region." As a result, some change is needed by some Western countries in order to develop their relations with Hamas.


"It is noticeable that there are Western countries which have given approval to their embassies for meetings with Hamas and they have sent envoys to communicate directly," said Dr. Yousef, adding that he was "involved personally" in some of these meetings. He pointed out that there is a clear shift in Western policy towards dealing with Hamas as integral players in the region, not least because "the Middle East now has clear Islamic orientations and elections are expected to produce Islamist governments everywhere".

The ex-deputy minister noted that Washington has been eager to conduct dialogue with Hamas for a long time and that countries such as France, the Netherlands and Norway have made contacts with the movement. Norway, among others, for example, has already removed Hamas from the "terrorist" list. This shift has come about because more and more Europeans feel that the lack of communication with Hamas does not serve Western interests. Contact, it is believed, will open doors for Europe to deal with the Islamic movements emerging across the region.

Europeans, explained Yousef, do not see any contradiction with conducting talks with Hamas while it is on the list of "terrorist organisations". After all, the United States maintains the Taliban on its terrorist list while talking to the group behind the scenes. "This is how things get moving," he said, "and how they end up with the movement being removed from those lists."

Hamas, added Yousef, is being dealt with not in place of Fatah, for so long the leading movement in favour with the West, but in recognition of its place in the Palestinian political arena. "Hamas can no longer be ignored and marginalised, especially as the Arab Spring raises the profile and acceptance of Islamists in Middle East politics." That, stressed Yousef, has to include the Palestinians. "Together, Fatah and Hamas are the main pillars of the Palestinian national project, so both factions must be dealt with equally by Western governments."

In support of this, Yousef pointed to the popular and official welcomes and respect shown to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh during his recent visits to Turkey, Tunisia and Sudan. "That was respect for Palestine and the Palestinian cause. When Fatah was established in the sixties, it was embraced by the Arab and Muslim world, and Arafat was received as a top leader; now that the Islamists are taking on that role, perceptions are changing at all levels."

On a separate note, Dr. Ahmed Yousef revealed that Khaled Meshaal, the head of the political bureau of Hamas, is preparing to visit Gaza, possibly with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as part of the efforts to promote national reconciliation. Yousef, who met with Meshaal during a visit to Damascus last week, said that Meshaal's visit will coincide with Abbas's if possible, but will go ahead in any case. The timing, he said, will be dictated by advice from the security agencies, given the fragile situation in the besieged Gaza Strip at this time.

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