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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Hamas should remain on terror blacklist, says EU court

The European Court of Justice judgement should bring to an end more than 16 years of legal debate about the status of the Palestinian Islamist group, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007

Officers from Hamas's national security force chant slogans while holding up their rifles during a parade against Israeli measure at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, in front of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City on July 26, 2017. Adel Hana / AP
Officers from Hamas's national security force chant slogans while holding up their rifles during a parade against Israeli measure at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, in front of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City on July 26, 2017. Adel Hana / AP

Hamas should remain on a blacklist of terrorist organisations, the EU’s highest legal authority ruled on Wednesday.

The European Court of Justice judgement should bring to an end more than 16 years of legal debate about the status of the Palestinian Islamist group, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Being on the list means that Hamas’s assets in EU member states are frozen, and travel bans are in place for members of the organisation.

Hamas is also considered a terrorist organisation by the UAE, the US and Israel.

The case came before the ECJ because of a judgement made by a lower EU court in 2014, which annulled a decision made 13 years previously to list Hamas as a terror group.

In 2001, the ECJ listed Hamas as a terror group, but the initial judgment was appealed in 2010, and four years later it was annulled by a lower EU court.

The General Court said that some of the documentation used to justify the first decision had been based on information which had appeared in the press or on the internet, rather than being backed up by independent investigation.

Explaining the reversal of the annulment, a spokesperson for the ECJ said: “The Council may maintain a person or an entity on the list if it concludes that there is an ongoing risk of that person or entity being involved in the terrorist activities that justified their initial listing.”

“With regard to Hamas, the Court observes that the General Court annulled the continued freezing of funds solely on the ground that the Council had not referred, by way of justification, to national decisions by competent authorities.”

EU’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, welcomed the decision, telling The Times of Israel that “the current listing of Hamas remains in force and the European Union continues to consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.”

He confirmed that the asset freeze and a ban against soliciting or mobilising funds would remain in force.

In its founding charter in 1988, Hamas called for the destruction of the state of Israel and advocated violence to achieve the goal of the restoration of a Palestinian state.

An updated version of the charter issued earlier this year softened this position, calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the borders carved out after the 1967 war.

However, this document still stated that "armed resistance is regarded as the strategic choice for protecting the principles and rights of the Palestinian people."

Yossi Mekelberg of the international relations think tank Chatham House says that the decision will make little difference to the appalling conditions on the ground in Gaza, or on the long-term political causes of Hamas.

“While there is no electricity in Gaza, while sewage is overflowing in the streets, while there is no sanitation,” because of the economic blockade, “Hamas will remain powerful.

“A clever ruling by the ECJ would have seen a recognition of the difference between those members of Hamas engaged in the armed struggle and those who are members of the political wing.”

Others claim that the financial implication of the ongoing freeze on Hamas’s funds and the ongoing situation in Gaza will probably have little impact on the ground.

“From the perspective of NGOs trying to operate in Gaza, financial access has been challenging [at best] for years via a combination of Israeli intervention and fear on the part of financial institutions who pay close attention to the position of US authorities, says Tom Keatinge, from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies

“This judgement is therefore likely to have only a very marginal impact as international organisations have been operating on the basis that Hamas is a designated entity already.”

The ECJ decision was hailed by the European Jewish Congress, who said that the ruling was an “important political message for the fight against international terror”.

Dr Moshe Kantor, the group's president, said: “Hamas is a part of an international terror network and has murdered countless people.”