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Israel spreads 'Hamas phobia' in Europe

Without prior warning, on December 31, 2013, the Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon, banned two European organisations on the grounds of their association with Hamas, namely: Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) in Belgium and the European Campaign to Remove the Siege Against the Gaza Strip in Norway, declaring them as illegal and allowing Israel to seize their funds and prosecute their members.

Hypothetical justifications

An Israeli military source claimed the motives behind the decision was the fact that the two organisations work as a "pressuring lobby" for Hamas in the European Union and are the movement's biggest supporters there. The source also said the organisations are carrying out their activities under the guise of sympathising with the Palestinians and are headed by senior activists in the movement.

However, the two banned organisations rejected Israel's decision as they are registered as organisations operating within the European Union. They said they are working to develop dialogue between Europe and the Arab world and to find a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Moreover, many of the organisations' board members are members of the European Parliament. The organisations have also organised visits to the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for parliamentarians, decision-makers, activists, journalists and academics in order for them to study the political and economic conditions, as well as the human rights situation there.

This indicated that the Israeli decision may not be directly linked to Hamas but is due to the efforts exerted by the organisations, their involvement with Palestinian political forces and their meetings with Hamas as the political force that won the legislative elections, after communication with them was made difficult.

Israel's decision is clearly based on the Europeans' decision to listen to Hamas' political story which is highlighted by these organisations and differs from the story publicised by Israel. It does not have evidence to challenge the legitimacy of the organisations or else it would have gone straight to the European judicial institutions so they take legal action.

Israel accused the members of these organisations of being activists who use their donation boxes to transfer financial aid to Hamas and that they share the views of the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Hamas considers the organised visits to carry implications and goals that go beyond the humanitarian, as they bring European political figures who are breaking the barrier imposed on the movement and breaking through its political isolation.

The Hamas government in Gaza has consistently organised field tours for these organisations and political meetings with their ministers, headed by the president Ismail Haniyeh, in order to tell its side of the story to Europe, which irritates Israel.

With regard to the funding of these organisations, Israel accuses them of receiving funds from Hamas; however, the Council for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR) issued a statement saying it receives donations from individuals around the world in accordance with European laws. The council also said it does not accept money from individuals and parties that oppose the values of peace and justice. The organisations do not receive funds or donations from Hamas because the Council's financial statements are presented to regulating bodies in the European Union.

European boycott

It is worth mentioning that this is not the first time Israel has banned Palestinian institutions in Europe under the pretext of association with Hamas. The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) in London was banned three years ago on grounds of being an organisation spreading propaganda against Israel, associated with Hamas, transfers funds to them and which sends convoys of ships and other convoys to Gaza.

It is clear that Israel's decision to ban these organisations came after the recent demand to find effective ways to pressure Israel to adhere to international law and stop its violations of the rights of the Palestinians without any consequences or deterring penalties, by means of organising visits for European parliamentarians and officials to Palestine to see the situation up close. Israel tried to accuse Hamas of being associated with such visits and tried to promote this in the European arena.

Israel issued its decision after such organisations were successful in disproving their version of the events, especially regarding the siege on Gaza, which created a "pressuring lobby" in Europe advocating the Palestinian cause.

Israel issued the decision in an effort to prevent the Europeans from visiting Palestine in order to witness the facts themselves as they are on the ground, as well as meeting with all the parties, including Hamas, which is not something Israel wants, after it became evident to the EU decision-makers that the decision to isolate the movement from the political process was a mistake.

Moreover, the Israeli decision unveils Tel Aviv's prevention of any activity by Hamas in Europe in order to hinder the continuation of relations and to require European countries to stop providing political facilities to Hamas. This is exactly what happened, official meetings with Hamas were stopped, although some behind the scenes and completely confidential meetings were held.

We could describe Israel as having a "Hamas phobia" and as linking any hostile activity against Israel to Hamas, even though it is not so. This is cited in the fact that the two banned organisations have nothing to do with Hamas, neither directly nor indirectly, as their delegations come to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and meet with representatives of Hamas as well as the other Palestinian groups.

Thus, the Israeli decision expresses its "flailing" efforts to confront the Palestinian tide within Europe and the growing boycott exercised by European countries and companies against Israel after Hamas welcomed the decisions recently issued in Europe to boycott Tel Aviv because of its support and funding of the settlements in Palestine.

Western dialogue

This Israeli decision raises the widespread debate on whether the West – especially the European Union – was "obliged" to conduct a dialogue with Hamas after years of including its political bureau on the terrorism list. This is in spite of the presence of great Israeli pressure to go through with the consequences of their decision and to continue to take practical field actions to translate its decision against the movement that has great popular weight and political presence that cannot be ignored or overlooked.

Most of the rounds of secret dialogue between the leaders of Hamas, or those close to them, and figures from European or Middle Eastern capitals were not done out of love for the Hamas leaders and their members, but in light of the popular expansion of the movement on every level; political, military and relief despite the blockade imposed on Hamas-controlled Gaza.

It is no wonder we have noticed that in recent years, the visits by Western officials and consuls coming from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to institutions associated with Hamas in Palestine have increased.

Regardless of the lengthy discussions between Hamas and international officials, both privately and publicly, there are many incentives and motivations that make the international community seek dialogue with them.

Among the most important of these motives is the current Western approach to conduct a comprehensive review of its policies toward the more "moderate" Islamic movements in the Arab region, due to its realisation of these movements' strength and impact on public opinion, as well as the international desire to know more about Hamas' position regarding a number of political, social and intellectual issues.

This was confirmed after they have proven that there is a great difference between the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood that the movement believes in – which is characterised by much moderation and openness to the others – and between the other schools of thought in the Islamic field, such as Al-Qaeda and the Salafist Islamic Jihad trends.

However, the United States, European Union and the International Quartet were not satisfied with merely implying their need to continue the settlement process with Israel, through their conversations with Hamas , directly or through mediation, they also stressed the need to regain a new Palestinian recognition of the movement, armed with an Islamic religious context, considering that in its literature, Hamas considers the root of the conflict with Israel to be ideological, as the conflict is about existence, not a border dispute.

Despite the public statements made by Western officials regarding the need for Hamas to change its strategies, abolish its charter and address the ongoing settlement process, they were unable to receive a responsive position from Hamas. They held dialogue with them, although the demands were kept in place in order to "save face".

It is because of this that many circles close to Hamas believe that the desire of all the parties, without exception, is that Hamas recognises Israel as a price for public dialogue. Hamas believes that this recognition aims to liquidate the movement politically and intellectually, after Israel failed to eliminate them militarily on the battlefield.

Hamas' dialogue with international powers is ever more important in light of a number of key factors, including: the continuity of its increase of power, which attracted international media and political attention that demands a response in one way or another, the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, its emergence as a strong force in the Palestinian arena, its presence and performance in military resistance action, its rise to power in the Palestinian political system after winning the majority vote in the 2006 parliamentary election, its continued control of Gaza despite the large blows it sustained during the past seven years, as well as the rise of Islamic movements after the Arab revolutions shortly before the setback that followed the Egyptian coup.

While the relationship of Hamas with most European countries can be said to be "slowly progressing", its relationship with the United States leaned towards a rapid drop officially. This is in spite of the fact its political discourse regarding its political relations, which began in an ideological context, turned into an actual reality and determined the interest of the Palestinian public and gave it a specific approach.

This means that the Western dialogue with Hamas is not linked to Israel's decision to ban the organisations mentioned earlier and it unveiled more than one chance for lengthy discussions between the two sides, regardless of the Israeli veto.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera Net on 6 February, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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