10 thoughts on “Gaza: talking to terrorists”

  1. Rosemary Hollis

    If it is the FCO doing the talking to Hamas — to what end? As intermediary with for Israelis or Fatah? The British have no power to deliver anything to Hamas do they? — other than profile raising. And how would they gain access without the blessing (or certainly the knowledge) of the Israelis? I know of at least two British groups conducting behind the scenes talks with Hamas and they are operating with Israeli knowledge and hence involvement.

  2. A couple of thoughts on James Spencer’s comment on Gaza (5). I agree with him on the central point and I am sure other ex-FCO colleagues have experience of talking to the enemy. I did in Basra where at one point I introduced a senior JAM officer to GOC MND(SE). The other point is that some contacts – including early PIRA contacts – are not avowed so I wonder how sure we can be that the FCO has entirely lost the habit.

  3. Another good example of the unwisdom of not talking to terrorists, aka ‘the bad guys’, arose in the peace agreement in Afghanistan in 2001-2.
    The Bonn Agreement was intended to bring peace to Afghanistan in late 2001, after the Northern Alliance with US and allied support had defeated the Taleban,
    But the USA Bush administration, in the aftermath of 9/11, vetoed the notion of the Taleban taking part in the peace talks (thus excluding from the peace process the key protagonists).
    When security deteriorated and the peace started to unravel, from 2005 onwards, the Taleban had no incentive to take part in talks from which they had formerly been denied a voice.
    More recently, in 2016, Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister and redoubtable head of the UN Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) , that had spearheaded the talks and led the subsequent UN presence in Afghanistan, reflected that this had been a grave mistake.
    At end 2001 the Taleban were a defeated force. Moderates among them would have been ready to join such talks. They would have retained influence and lines of communication with the Government of Afghanistan, then under President Hamid Karzai; elements that have since been painfully hard to achieve.

  4. The FCO seems to have paid (probably large sums of) tax-payers’ money to ‘rediscover’ traditional British practice, developed over a century of bloody experience at home and abroad.
    British practice has traditionally been to talk to the political wing of an organisation and to proscribe the violent wing. When there is overlap, a Nelsonian blind eye has been usually turned, so that the likes of Martin McGuiness was regarded as wearing his Sinn Fein hat when talking to HMG, rather than his PIRA balaclava. As Oliver Miles can attest, we did the same with FLOSY in Aden, (but had difficulty doing so with the NLF because they had no overt political wing. That’s a similar problem to the one we have with AQ – there is almost no political wing to engage.)
    The practice has mostly broken down due to the influence of the Neo-Cons and / or the pro-Israel lobby, who wish to completely isolate their opponents in the mistaken belief that they can destroy an insurgency which has legitimate aspirations / grievances. Thus both political and violent wings of HAMAS and Hizballah have been proscribed, while hypocritically (as the Arabs know) we continue to support and engage with FATAH, which has its own violent wing. (And from the sublime to the ridiculous, the US never proscribed either PIRA or Sinn Fein throughout the Troubles.) It’s also worth noting that talking to our preferred interlocutors (ie the moderates) is usually futile, as the hard-liners usually have the capacity to act as spoilers to any agreement with the moderates.
    To illustrate the idiocy of abandoning our practice, 22% of insurgency / terrorist campaigns end by negotiation. It’s difficult to negotiate when one is forbidden from talking to the opposition.
    The suggestion that DfID or any number of consultancies can embed liberal democracy within the life of a contract is risible. It’s a generational challenge: the Allied policy toward Germany post-WWII is the classic model. It can regress if not continually supported; the opposition are often aware of this; “you have the watches, we have the time”, as the Taliban are wont to remark.

  5. Same suggestion also applies to Huthis in Yemen: certainly distasteful but they are there, on the ground and in control, indeed more so than the internationally recognised government which can hardly be said to uphold the principles of democracy or integrity, or indeed any of the values we pride ourselves on, even though western respect for them can also be seriously challenged!

  6. The interpretation of Alistair Burt’s comments in Parliament as hinting at lifting the ban on talking to Hamas is confirmed by his comments https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/31/britain-must-strike-deals-with-unsavoury-elites-says-fco-report on a recent report by the UK government’s “stabilisation unit” http://www.sclr.stabilisationunit.gov.uk/publications/elite-bargains-and-political-deals : “There will be times when we have to hold our nose and support dialogue with those who oppose our values, or who may have committed war crimes… All too often in the past we have shied away from engaging with individuals or groups that our moral or political judgments deemed unpalatable. Or, alternatively, we have sought to apply overly formal and technical solutions to what are essentially political problems.” He said there was a case for sometimes opening channels to Hamas, the Taliban, or Sunni insurgents that killed US soldiers in Iraq.
    Burt has come a long way during the years he’s been dealing with the Middle East. As a junior minister (minister of state) he would normally have limited authority to change policy, but things are not normal – the PM Theresa May and the new foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt have other fish to fry.

  7. I appreciate that grammar is out of fashion, but “Israel and its partisans” was the subject of the sentence, whose policy was formaldehyde.
    ” – such as the Conservative Friends of Israel (of which Burt was an active officer) – ” was the clearly subordinate clause, thus in no way suggesting that it was Burt’s utterance.

    1. It is not a question of grammar. The problem was that, in the absence of any other named individual, the reader was left to infer that the pronoun “he” referred to Burt.

  8. It is difficult to take the words of “Alistair Burt, minister of state at the FCO”, seriously. Like much of what is said about the Holy Lands, this is disingenuous, verging on dishonest – not to mention insulting to the British electorate.
    “I am saying very clearly that I do not think that the policies in relation to Gaza are working; I think they are failing.” For Israel and its partisans – such as the Conservative Friends of Israel (of which Burt was an active officer) – the policy is working perfectly: “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” he said. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” (https://www.haaretz.com/1.4710372) The formaldehyde policy is buying time for the ever-increasing seizure of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the destruction of any possibility of a Two State Solution, viable or otherwise. That is not in the UK national interest.

    1. James Spencer’s comment suggests that Alistair Burt is the author of the “formaldehyde” remark. Not so. Readers who click on the link provided will find that it was made by Dov Weisglas, an adviser to the late Ariel Sharon.

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