Former British prime minister and peace negotiator Tony Blair said the international community made a mistake boycotting Hamas after the terror group’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections, saying it should have instead attempted to “pull Hamas into a dialogue.”
Blair, along with leaders of countries in the Middle East Quartet and Israel, sanctioned and cut aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas’s win, demanding that the terror group recognize Israel, renounce violence and adhere to previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, conditions that Hamas rejected.
While Israel and Quartet member states resumed ties with the PA following its split with Hamas in 2007, when the terror group took over the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup, they have continued to boycott Hamas, which has refused to agree to the conditions and has since fought three wars with Israel.
Blair, who represented the Quartet until 2015, said in an interview on the upcoming book “Gaza: Preparing for Dawn” that it was a mistake to not try to engage Hamas following the elections and moderate the group’s stance toward Israel.
“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,” said Blair, according to a Guardian report Saturday.
“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,” he added.
Blair did not detail the nature of the British government’s informal contacts with Hamas, although he was likely referring to efforts to secure the release of a British journalist kidnapped in Gaza in 2007.
The former British prime minister has met with Hamas leaders on a number of occasions since leaving the Quartet, in part to try and broker a long-term ceasefire between the terror group and Israel.
The publication of Blair’s comments came as Hamas reached a reconciliation agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party last week that will see the PA resume government control over Gaza.
Hamas, however, has refused to turn over its arsenal as part of the deal, and the terror group’s deputy leader said the agreement will allow all Palestinians to “work together against the Zionist enterprise.”
Israel has condemned the reconciliation accord, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying Israel opposes “any reconciliation in which the terrorist organization Hamas does not disarm and end its war to destroy Israel.”
Also interviewed in the book was Blair’s former chief of staff Jonathan Powell, who called the Quartet’s decision to boycott Hamas “a terrible mistake” that made a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians harder to achieve.
“If you got a united Palestinian team to negotiate with, then life would have been a whole easier,” said Powell, referring to the fact that the split between Hamas forced negotiators to make separate concessions to both groups.
The book also includes segments of UK government documents from 2006 that warned against punitive actions targeting the PA over its inclusion of Hamas.
Arguing that in the near term it would be hard for the terror group to drop “its commitment to the destruction of Israel and its support for terrorism,” the document argued that “ultimately Hamas’s participation in the realities of political responsibility might bring about Hamas’s transformation to a political rather than terrorist organization.”
Another government document, which cited a European Union official, said the decision to cut funding to the PA could fuel violence and undermine the EU’s reputation as a promoter of democracy.
“To withdraw it would have dramatic consequences and could lead to violence. The EU was under no obligations to align its position on financial support with that of the US and Israel. The EU had not done so in the past,” said the document.
“The wider region was watching the EU response to these elections. If we seemed, by our actions, to be rejecting the results then our claims to promoting democracy would be undermined,” it added.