The proposal by British Home Secretary Priti Patel to designate the political wing of Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation will be submitted for parliamentary approval this week. The move indicates clearly the degree of official British alignment with Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and legitimate resistance groups; official antipathy to the growing Palestinian solidarity movement; and the government’s opposition to everything that exposes Israel’s racist occupation and crimes against the Palestinians and their land.
Britain designated the Hamas military wing in 2001, but not the political wing. It has relied on the EU designation of the movement in its entirety even since. Post-Brexit, that is no longer possible.
The move is almost certain to be approved by parliament, given the government’s majority in the House of Commons and the influence of the pro-Israel lobby. The Boris Johnson government is known to be very close to the lobby, and Zionist in its leanings.
Moreover, the leadership of the opposition Labour Party is more right wing than before, and current leader Keir Starmer MP has expressed his support for Israel on a number of occasions. It is thus likely that he will support the government in its move to ban all of Hamas, unlike two years ago, when Labour MPs abstained in the vote to designate Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Approval of the move will lead to further restrictions on public spaces for Palestinian solidarity and the legitimate right to resist the Zionist colonial occupation. However, it will not lead to any reduction in this solidarity with the Palestinian people and their rights. Similar decisions against Hamas in a number of Western countries such as the US, Canada and Germany did not prevent hundreds of thousands of Palestinian solidarity activists from protesting during Israel’s military offensive against Palestinian civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip in May.
What reduces the impact of the decision on working for Palestine in Britain is the absence of Hamas institutions or assets in the UK. Moreover, there are many Palestinians and non-Palestinians in British society who support international law which gives people living under military occupation the right to resist by any means at their disposal.
This does not mean that the Johnson government will not resort to intimidatory measures to warn the Palestinians and their supporters in Britain of the seriousness of the designation if it is approved by parliament. In doing so, it will satisfy the demand of the pro-Israel lobby to deny the people of Palestine any and all of their legitimate rights. The lobby knows that every time pro-Palestine activists draw international attention to Israel’s illegal activities and apartheid regime, its own credibility is weakened.
As for the impact of the decision on Hamas politically, I believe that it will reduce publically-acknowledged communication between the movement and Western governments. However, it is unlikely to halt behind the scenes links. It is known, for example, that the US, Germany and other countries send representatives on a fairly regular basis to meet with Hamas leaders. Such “informal” contacts are nothing new, as Yvonne Ridley has quoted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as saying.The British home secretary’s decision will have an impact on the internal Palestinian situation, in particular on the chances of national reconciliation, as it will further complicate the relationship between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and its backbone, Fatah. Classifying the political wing as a terrorist group will be used as an excuse by Fatah to avoid a national partnership out of fear that the international community will not accept the presence of Hamas without the movement abandoning its resistance programme and agreeing to the conditions imposed by the international Quartet.
More serious, perhaps, than the effect on Palestinian political reconciliation, is the fact that the designation of Hamas will make it easier for the occupation state to assassinate Hamas politicians. This has serious and potentially very dangerous implications for everyone, not just the Palestinians in the movement.
If the British government goes ahead with the designation of Hamas, it will send a signal that it does not wish to play a leading role in the search for a just peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Britain would, by default, be excluding an essential section of the Palestinian community from the peace process, without which a real and lasting peace is impossible to envision.
It is clear that the current British government does not listen to those who advise it to learn from the Irish experience, based on the principle that whoever wants peace must talk to all parties. Only by doing this was Blair able to pave the way for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The Conservative government in London looks to be hell-bent on not learning from the mistakes of its predecessors. As cited by Yvonne Ridley, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair — “a one-time Middle East envoy and most definitely a friend of Israel” — admitted in 2017 “that he and other world leaders had been wrong to give in to Israeli pressure to boycott Hamas after its election victory. ‘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. But obviously it was very difficult, 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.” This may be the reason for Blair’s frequent meetings with the leader of Hamas in 2017 in Qatar.
Former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw regretted putting the Hamas military wing on the terrorism list in 2001. The day may well dawn when Patel and her boss Boris Johnson also express regrets, and apologise for the mistake that they are making, which is nothing less than a continuation of Britain’s anti-Palestinian policies from the 1917 Balfour Declaration to this day.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 20 November 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.