A cross party group of MPs has called on the Quartet mediating in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to open a dialogue with Hamas, saying “until now there has been no engagement between the Quartet and Hamas, but now we think it is time”.
Publishing a report on the humanitarian and development situation in the occupied territories, the international development select committee said the international community should “seize the opportunity” of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to bring the Palestinian group into the peace process.
The chair of the committee, Liberal Democrat Malcolm Bruce told the Guardian that the MPs believed it was time for the Quartet – made up of the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations – to “sound out Hamas”.
The committee heard evidence from former prime minister Tony Blair – the representative of the Quartet – whose session in front of the committee was a rare return to the House of Commons. The MPs found that Blair had made a “welcome first step” to reduce strategic checkpoints.
Although the MPs reported that the Hamas armed takeover of Gaza was “neither justified nor acceptable”, they also said that it was important to include Hamas in peace talks. They also urged the Quartet to use the opportunity provided by the truce to begin a reconciliation between rival Palestinian parties Hamas and Fatah.
The Quartet’s insistence that Hamas must first agree to three principles – to recognise Israel, renounce violence, and abide by previous agreements – before being involved in peace talks had “achieved very little” in the last two years, the committee said.
Bruce said that food, fuel and water were in short supply in Gaza, and the public health system was under severe pressure following the closure of borders. Though a six-month ceasefire was agreed between Hamas and Israel last month allowing food and aid through Gaza’s borders, the committee found that the effect of Israel’s blockades were still felt and the situation on the ground was far worse.
Bruce said: “Israel has obligations to ensure the health and welfare of the Palestinian population, which it has not met.
“We believe the situation was allowed to continue for too long, and that the Quartet did not exert sufficient pressure on Israel to open the crossings.”