UN envoy: anti-Hamas rhetoric undermines democracy
Ian Black, Middle East editor
Wednesday June 13, 2007
Alvaro de Soto, the just-retired UN coordinator for the Middle East, has warned that international hostility to the Palestinian Hamas movement, now fighting in the bitterly escalating civil conflict in Gaza, could have grave consequences by persuading millions of Muslims that democratic methods do not work.
The Peruvian diplomat's sensational valedictory dispatch, written last month and published exclusively in the Guardian today, traced increasingly violent responses to the victory of the Islamist group in the Palestinian elections in January 2006.
These included a continuing boycott of the freely-elected government - which he admits has had "devastating" consequences, which have contributed to the current violence between Hamas and Fatah.
"The steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbour, Israel, have had precisely the opposite effect," he wrote in his confidential internal memo.
The US and Israel had both erred in seeing Hamas as a passing phenomenon, the envoy argued. "Hamas is deep-rooted, has struck many chords, including its contempt for the Oslo process, and is not likely to disappear," he wrote.
"Erroneous treatment of Hamas could have repercussions far beyond the Palestinian territories because of its links to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose millions of supporters might conclude that peaceful and democratic means are not the way to go."
In a key passage that may already have been overtaken by the rapidly deteriorating situation, Mr De Soto wrote: "Hamas is in effervescence and can potentially evolve in a pragmatic direction that would allow for a two-state solution - but only if handled right.
"If the Palestinian Authority passes into irrelevance or collapses (as now seems likely) calls for a one-state solution to the conflict "will come out of the shadows and enter the mainstream."
Mr De Soto is critical of the UN as well as of the US and Israel. He also attacked the Palestinians' record on violence directed at Israeli civilians as "patchy at best, reprehensible at worst" and described the Hamas charter as "abominable" while highlighting the movement's "alleged links to an Iranian regime which makes bloodcurdling statements about Israel."
"Palestinian terror strengthens the hardliners and weakens the peace camp in Israel," he wrote, but added: "If Israel was less heavy-handed about the way it conducts its military business, and... was seen to be moving earnestly to end the occupation, it would aid rather than handicap its legitimate fight against terrorism."
The effect of the quartet's intense focus on Hamas, (which still refuses to formally recognise Israel or renounce violence), was to take all pressure off Israel, Mr de Soto argued. That allowed the construction of yet more Israeli settlements and the separation barrier, which have in turn damaged the slim hopes that a viable Palestinian state can ever be created.
It would need a "Sherlockian magnifying glass," to find allusions to Israel's failure to comply with its "road map" obligations.
"No amount of magnification" would find references to its responsibilities as an occupier to ensure the welfare of Palestinian civilians."
On the UN and Israel he wrote: "We are not a friend of Israel if we allow it to fall into the self delusion that the Palestinians are the only ones to blame, or that it can continue blithely to ignore its obligations under existing agreements without paying an international diplomatic price in the short-term and a bitter price regarding its security and identity in the long-term."