UK considered Hamas a resistance movement, called for dialogue, documents reveal

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar (Mahmud Hams - AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  May 31, 2022

The UK considered Hamas a resistance movement which is fighting the Israeli occupation, documents obtained following a freedom of information request show, according to the BBC.

The documents reveal that in 1993 the UK’s recognition of Hamas led to tension with Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) headed by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. This caused an internal dispute between the UK’s Department of Security Coordination, which saw Hamas’ military wing’s activities during the First Intifada to fight off the occupation worthy of having it labelled a “terror wing”. While the Middle East Department said Hamas’ activities were limited to Israeli military targets and so no such label would be necessary.

It also highlighted the PLO and Israel’s efforts to promote a negative image of Hamas. “Israel and the PLO have an interest in discrediting Hamas and creating problems for its supporters at home and abroad,” it said, warning that the two “exaggerate the relationship between Hamas and Iran.”

As Hamas’ role in the First Intifada became ever more apparent, Israel and the PLO agreed to sign the Oslo Accords and form the Palestinian Authority, which would govern the Gaza Strip and parts of the occupied West Bank.

Israel also expelled 418 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to Lebanon, a move that led to condemnation on the international stage. A UN Security Council resolution was issued slamming the move as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and called for those expelled to be returned to the occupied territories. This was backed by the UK.

Not long after, the British ambassador to Jordan met with Hamas officials in his residence, where they reviewed the history of the movement and affirmed that Hamas is a “liberation movement working to liberate the Palestinians from the occupation authorities” and that “it did not operate outside Palestine and has no plans to extend its activities”.

The BBC reported that the ambassador said the UK agreed with Hamas on “the status of the occupied territories, the inadmissibility of acquiring lands by force, and the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” He did, however, add that Britain seeks a settlement to the conflict and does not endorse Hamas’ use of armed resistance to achieve this. He said although armed resistance is a legal right, Hamas’ actions contribute to the cycle of violence that made agreeing a settlement peacefully difficult.

The UK joined the US in designating Hamas as a terrorist organization late last year. In 2017, at a conference organized by MEMO, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw intimated that he was dismissed from government because he had urged the government to talk to Hamas. “Some people say I was removed from the post of foreign secretary” because of these comments, he said.