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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

‘We were wrong to boycott Hamas', says Tony Blair

The boycott and Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza began in 2007 and is still in force

Tony Blair, pictured, sided with George Bush's move to blockade Hamas. AP Photo/Richard Drew
Tony Blair, pictured, sided with George Bush's move to blockade Hamas. AP Photo/Richard Drew

For the first time, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that he and other world leaders were wrong to give in to Israeli pressure to boycott Hamas after the Palestinian elections in 2006.

At the time, President George Bush pushed to halt aid to and to severe ties with the newly elected Hamas-led Palestinian Authority unless they would meet Mr Bush’s terms: recognise Israel, publicly reject violence and to take up the agreements that had been in place between Fatah and Israel.

A close ally, then-leader of the UK, Mr Blair stood by Mr Bush and offered strong support for the proposal.

Hamas, the winners of the 2006 election which international monitors judged to have been free and fair, rejected the terms. The boycott and Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza kicked in the following year and is still in force.

Critics of the decision say it has led to the isolation and suffering of those living Gaza, helped drive Hamas towards Iran and reduced Western influence in the region.

Now, a decade later, Mr Blair has said world leaders should have “tried to pull [Hamas] into a dialogue”, reports the UK’s The Observer newspaper.

On the day that Mr Blair resigned as Prime Minister, he was appointed the official Special Envoy of the Quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - on the Middle East. He held the post until May 2015 and has since held several private meetings with the Hamas political bureau chief, Khaled Meshaal, and his successor Ismail Haniyeh.

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“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 Mr Blair, during an interview for a new book by Donald Macintyre called Gaza: Preparing for Dawn.

He added: “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.”

The comments come as Hamas and Fatah agreed in Cairo that Hamas would hand over responsibility for the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to the Palestinian Authority by November 1. This raises hopes that the crossing, kept mostly closed by Egypt in recent years, will become a reliable channel between Gaza and the outside world.

Although there is still considerable work to be done to close the schism between the two sides that has existed since the 2007 civil war in Gaza, there was also an agreement that Hamas would hand over administrative control of Gaza to a unity government by December 1, according to a statement by Egypt's state information service. One of the negotiators said the deal includes 3,000 members of Palestinian Authority security forces redeploying to Gaza.

Since 2007 Hamas has held control over charge of the coastal enclave, while President Mahmoud Abbas leads the West Bank-based, Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.