Britain should begin talking directly with three of the Middle East’s most prominent radical Islamic groups, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, a committee of lawmakers said in a report released Monday.
British diplomats should speak with moderate elements from such groups and continue engaging Iran and Syria because their influence in the region can no longer be discounted, Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee said.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is strong in Egypt, and Hamas and Hezbollah cannot be ignored,” the report said.
The government is not obliged to act on the report, which criticized Britain’s role in the international boycott of Hamas after the militant group won Palestinian elections in January 2006, saying that had contributed to the collapse of the unity government in the Palestinian territories earlier this year.
Britain’s priority should now be to draw Hamas back into a national unity government with the more moderate Fatah movement and persuade it to renounce violence, the committee said.
The lawmakers urged former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the new envoy for the “Quartet,” an international group of Middle East mediators, to negotiate directly with the militant group.
A similar approach was recommended for dealing with Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s outlawed opposition party. Lawmakers described Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon as malign and said the scope of the Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda was uncertain, but the committee said the power and influence of the two made dealing with them unavoidable.
The recommendations run counter to existing policies.
Hamas, which was expelled from the Palestinian government after its forcible takeover of the Gaza Strip in June, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Both have refused to negotiate directly with group.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it had challenged Hamas to renounce violence before it would talk with the group. “There have to be some ground rules,” the office said in a statement.
The U.S. has also labeled Hezbollah a terrorist organization and prohibits contact with the group. Britain has outlawed the movement’s armed wing.
U.S. officials this year met with parliamentary members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned since 1954 but is the country’s most powerful opposition movement.
The report said dialogue with Syria and Iran must feature in regional negotiations. It said Damascus — long accused of destabilizing Lebanon — “may slowly be changing for the better.”
While the report largely covered British policy in the Middle East, it also questioned U.S. foreign policy. The committee said the U.S.-backed “roadmap” for Mideast peace had become irrelevant, that its “surge” strategy in Iraq was unlikely to succeed, and that the “War on Terror” vocabulary espoused by U.S. officials created resentment across the Middle East.