World leaders were wrong to boycott Hamas after it won Palestinian elections in 2006, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said for the first time according to the Guardian newspaper.
In an interview with the paper, Blair said: “In retrospect I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull [Hamas] into a dialogue and shifted their positions. I think that’s where I would be in retrospect.”
“Obviously it was very difficult,” Blair said, “the Israelis were very opposed to it. But you know we could have probably worked out a way whereby we did – which in fact we ended up doing anyway, informally.”
According to the Guardian, Blair did not elaborate on subsequent “informal” dealings with Hamas but it added that this could be a reference to contacts between MI6 and Hamas representatives during and possibly after the kidnap of BBC journalist Alan Johnston.
Hamas helped achieve Johnson’s release in 2007.
Blair, who strongly supported the US decision to boycott Hamas, said the boycott of Hamas came under extensive Israeli pressure. The US administration demanded that Hamas recognise Israel, previous deals signed by Israel and the PLO and to renounce resistance operations.
Hamas rejected the conditions and a siege, which is still in place 11 years on, was imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip with the support of the international community, including the UK.
“Since leaving his Quartet post, Blair has held at least six lengthy private meetings with Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas political bureau chief until earlier this year, and his successor Ismail Haniyeh, partly to explore a possible long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas,” the paper added.
“But the international block on official contacts with Hamas has eroded western leverage in the region, increased the isolation and suffering of the Gaza public, and helped to drive the faction into the arms of Iran – all without dislodging it from its dominance of Gaza, say critics.”
Blair’s review of his position came in the wake of Hamas and Fatah reaching a reconciliation deal that ended an 11-year-old rift that started when Hamas beat its rival in the elections in 2006.