Talk to Hamas, ex-Australian FM says

A former Australian foreign minister called on Israel and the international community to engage with Hamas.

Gareth Evans, who since 2000 has been the president of the Belgium-based International Crisis Group, wrote in the Christian Science Monitor last week that Jerusalem’s policy of isolating the Islamist extremists has been a “predictable failure.” He said the current policy of sanctions in Gaza has left the peace process “in tatters.”

Evans argued that engaging Hamas “may provide the Islamists with greater international recognition, but acknowledging its role also could mean increasing leverage on it.”

His call for engagement comes just two weeks after Jonathan Powell, the chief of staff to Tony Blair when he was British prime minister, made similar remarks in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

Powell, who is credited for his role in helping broker the settlement in Northern Ireland, argued that Britain and other Western governments should engage with terror organizations including al-Qaida, the Taliban and Hamas.

As foreign minister in the 1990s under Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, Evans irked Jerusalem when he criticized Israel for human rights abuses during a visit to the region. In addition, while Evans was in office, Australia lifted its ban on contact with the PLO, enraging the local Jewish community.

But last week Foreign Minister Stephen Smith ruled out a policy shift in Canberra regarding Hamas, which won the elections in the Gaza Strip in January 2006 and assumed full control there in June 2007.

Hamas’ military wing since 2003 has been proscribed under Australian law as a terrorist organization. According to government guidelines on contact with Palestinian representatives, Australian officials should avoid contact with Hamas officials.

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