Robert Fisk Independent/UK 15 February 2015
The very precautions aid agencies now take have made them objects of suspicion
Should we talk to the killers of the “Islamic State”? Or al-Qaeda? Or Hamas? Or – let us cross the line – the Provisional IRA? Or should we join in the madness of “listing”, drawing up mammoth charts of those to whom we can and cannot talk: a “good” and “evil” list, defining those good “terrorists” (the PLO, the post-Good Friday IRA, the squeaky clean version of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the really horrible “terrorists” (Isis, al-Qaeda and any lesser creatures whom Israel and the US, and thus the UN and even the EU, deem utterly satanic).
Not long ago, I was chatting in Beirut to a Tory MP who had maintained moderately good relations with the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah militia. Only with the Hezbollah political party, you understand. Not those vicious anti-Semitic chappies who threaten Israel. But then Britain and the EU decided that all of Hezbollah – even those supporters who wouldn’t know one end of a Kalashnikov from another – were verboten, beyond the pale. End of all chit-chat, therefore, between a UK parliamentarian and Hezbollah politicos. Much good did that do.
And research by the Queen Mary University of London School of Law and the Berghof Foundation in Berlin strongly suggests that the “listing” of armed groups by governments – often for clear political reasons – prevents what the writers call “peace building”, hindering the host of NGOs, academics, lawyers and others who are trying to explain the benefits of human rights and political moderation to armed groups whose brutal methods have never been challenged.
In Gaza, for example, NGOs, human rights workers and others labour under intense political scrutiny from obedient government lawyers, Israeli propagandists and servile overseas charities. Suggest that a Western agency has been talking to a Hamas official about the purchase of land for a humanitarian project in Gaza and, bingo, the NGO has been negotiating with a vicious “terrorist” organisation that wants to destroy the State of Israel. Indeed, the very precautions that aid agencies now take to avoid accusations of illegally talking to “terrorist” organisations have made them objects of suspicion. When a humanitarian worker turns up at a Gaza home and demands the passport and personal details of an entire family – in order to employ a Palestinian – the reaction is one of fear. Why do the foreigners want all this information about those living under Israeli siege?
The 197-page report, to be published on 24 February, states that for those interested in peace and a non-violent resolution of conflict, the future looks bleak, “not just because the war on terror keeps producing enemies with whom, it is said, there is no negotiating, but because of the way in which political violence … is managed. At the heart of this transformation is the freedom for governments to apply the terrorist label to groups and individuals on the basis of very broad definitions of what ‘terrorism’ entails … leading to a glut of terrorist designations.”
International, regional and national lists of thousands of designated “terrorist” entities now span the globe. The war on terror, the report says, has “presented a formidable challenge to those seeking the peaceful resolution of conflicts caused by legitimate and long-festering grievances”. In short, how can professional mediators and “peacebuilding organisations” continue to work if they don’t know whether their activities are lawful?
The report is rather mild to the Western governments who threaten all those who “talk to terrorists” with legal action at home while doing deals with the same rogues behind everyone else’s back. The Israelis organise Hezbollah-Israeli prisoner releases, for example, via the German secret service.
The paper looks at terrorist “listing” in Somalia, the Palestinian occupied territories and Turkish Kurdistan, but its analysis of Hamas “listing” tells the whole story. The EU’s exclusion of Hamas from diplomatic relations – the EU obediently following the Israeli-US lead – resulted in Europe’s marginalisation in Palestinian talks. Jimmy Carter’s US-based “Carter Centre” ended conflict-resolution talks with “Hamas” leaders. An EU mental health project in Gaza collapsed because of “a prohibition of dialogue with relevant [Hamas] officials”.
A truly surreal remark from a Palestinian NGO deserves a finale all of its own. “I believe that we need to talk to Hamas to educate them and we need to let them know what’s going on,” he said. “But we cannot make a workshop, we cannot offer a Nescafé or cappuccino for any one of them. It’s considered as materialistic support … can you imagine it? You cannot offer them a coffee!” [Abridged]