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Muhammad Shehada

The EU must review its stance on Hamas

The Gaza Strip has been governed by Hamas since 2007 [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 1 January, 2019

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Comment: The EU's attitude to Hamas blocks the path to Palestinian reconciliation, and perpetuates division and occupation, writes Muhammad Shehada.
Despite wearing a flak jacket marked "PRESS", Palestinian journalist Yassir Murtaja, was killed by an Israeli army sharpshooter last April, while taking pictures of the Great Return March demonstrations in Khan Younis.

Israel almost instantly, and quite effortlessly, justified Yasser's murder 
by simply pairing his name with the dehumanising slur "Hamas," without even the slightest effort to back up such claims with any evidence.

Similarly, all it took Israel, over the last eight months, to justify the carefully calibrated killing and maiming of thousands of defenseless Gazan protesters, was to cry wolf, by smearing Gaza's call for life as a Hamas-orchestrated campaign.

The word "Hamas" has become Israel's strongest scarecrow. By regularly citing how the EU and the US have kept Hamas on the terror list since 2003 and 1997 respectively.

Through this label, Israel is not only able to successfully portray Hamas as a violent group, but also as the mother lode cause of all Palestinian suffering and the grand actor behind any Palestinian attempt to rise against the Israeli occupation.

For instance, senior Israeli politicians and lobbying groups freely smear the BDS campaign by contriving a "discreet connection" between all pro-Palestinian activism and Hamas.

More notable is the way in which successive Israeli governments excuse having devastated any prospect for Palestinians realising statehood, by systematically stating that as soon as Israel dismantles its occupation in the West Bank it'll be taken over by Hamas; just like the Gaza Strip.

Israel is smearing Gaza's call for life as a Hamas-orchestrated campaign

The blacklisting of Hamas not only provides fertile grounds for mendacious Israeli propaganda, but it also contributed to the disastrous status quo in Gaza in the first place.

After Hamas ran for national elections in 2006, 
at the US' request, and won a parliament majority, the EU collectively punished the Palestinian people for their choice by defunding and sanctioning the ensuing Palestinian government, and enacting a boycott "no-contact" policy with all Hamas officials.

This practice of withholding legitimacy from one party; Hamas, and bestowing it upon the other; Fatah, paved the way towards a decade of Palestinian division, fragmentation and internal hostility, creating Israel's favoured atmosphere for its divide and rule strategy.

And while the EU repeatedly calls for intra-Palestinian reconciliation, it actually undermines the potential for reaching that goal, by continuing to scorn and demonise one of the two conflicting Palestinian parties.

This - in a catch 22 cliché - provides the perfect pretext for Israel's Netanyahu to perpetuate Palestinian division and occupation by repeatedly demonising the PA when it chooses Hamas over Israel, while at the same time refusing to engage in serious peace talks with the PA.

Furthermore, the suffering of Gaza under the Israeli blockade has been perpetuated by the international community holding its caged population hostage to impossible standards. For instance, the EU argues that to recognise Hamas and put pressure on Israel to lift the siege, it must first unconditionally recognise Israel and give up Gaza's modest deterrence and defense line of primitive weapons.

As Hamas refuses to be subjugated to such unrealistic demands, EU officials, when asked for help, cry "we can't deal directly with Hamas," and consequently can't do much to help Gaza, though the reality is quite the opposite. 

Clearly, the EU, or Germany in particular, was joyfully speaking to Hamas, when it chose, to Israel's benefit, to negotiate the release of Israeli captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Even former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, held several meetings with Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, to advance Israel's demands for clam. Blair concluded that "we were wrong to boycott Hamas."

Moreover, the very legality of such EU boycott and terror-blacklisting of Hamas is questionable, as Hamas incurred the "terror" label for political reasons.

In 2014, for instance, the 
EU's second highest court ordered the removal of Hamas from the terror list, since it relied on no legal deliberations or solid evidence, but rather media reports, and little else. This decision was overruled by the EU's top court shortly after; again, without any legal deliberations.

Read more: Palestinian security forces block press conference by Hamas parliamentary speaker

Nonetheless, as new actors have recently joined to the mediation table between Israel and Hamas; most notably the US Trump administration, the EU should reconsider its rejectionist, exclusivist and counterproductive position on the movement.

If any hope for progress and peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists on the EU's agenda, then it should simply follow the lead of other countries, who have taken active role in advancing Palestinian reconciliation talks.

Switzerland for instance maintains 
a policy of neutrality and "impartial inclusiveness" for all parties involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has hosted several intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks.

The EU should reconsider its rejectionist, exclusivist and counterproductive position on the movement

Russia has also held several talks with Hamas as part of the Palestinian political system in order to foster Palestinian reconciliation, without necessarily empowering or financially supporting the movement.

Otherwise, an EU delisting of Hamas' political arm could be made an incentive to progress Palestinian reconciliation - which is currently a priority for the EU - by for instance, officially pledging to reconsider the legality of Hamas' blacklisting if it implements the 2017 reconciliation deal, or participates in future national elections.

The EU could also remove Hamas' political wing from the terror list, while sanctioning its armed wing, the al-Qassam brigades.

This is the position currently held 
by the UKAustralia and New Zealand.

But to continue dividing the Palestinian people into some praised groups and other cursed ones, in effect, renders the EU complicit in Israel's occupation, and its human rights violations against the Palestinian people.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab. 

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