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UK’s outlawing of Hamas’ political wing ‘a counterproductive politically motivated move’

31st Dec 2021
UK’s outlawing of Hamas’ political wing  ‘a counterproductive politically motivated move’

Home Secretary Priti Patel’s drive to ban Hamas’ political wing was motivated more by political ambition than by domestic security concerns, critics argue. (Photo credit: Richard Townshen/UK Parliament)

Harun Nasrullah

The UK’s outlawing of Hamas’ political wing has been slammed as a counter-productive politically motivated move, which impedes any viable peace plan, hinders humanitarian work in the besieged Gaza Strip, and overlooks Israel’s unfettered illegal occupation of Palestinian Territories.

Hamas was officially proscribed in its entirety on November 27. This means that any members of any faction of Hamas or those who invite support for the group could be jailed for 14 years and fined.

The law also has extraterritorial jurisdiction, i.e., it applies to UK nationals and residents overseas.
Until last month, only the group’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, had been formally listed under the country’s 2000 Terrorism Act.

Among those who slammed the move is Reigate’s Tory MP Crispin Blunt, who raised his concerns during the House of Commons debate on November 19.

The former Foreign Affairs Committee Chair asked how the ban would impact efforts to facilitate dialogue between different actors in the region, and how the UK would help with humanitarian missions in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.

Blunt, who was also the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Youth Justice, said the ban on Hamas would have a “terrible chilling effect” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Speaking during the debate, Blunt asked for clarification on the fate of those who engage with Hamas members or leadership “to try to draw them into peace negotiations, the unification of the Palestinian position and all the other things that we should be trying to do as parliamentarians engaged in that process—have made it clear that we have no support for Hamas as a movement, will we be at risk of prosecution?”

The Conservative MP also suggested that Hamas had “under international law, a legal right to resist”. Arguing, “Whilst we have already taken a position on what is plainly the stupid, illegitimate, immoral, mortaring of people where you can’t tell where the targets are simply by flying weapons over the wall because you don’t have the capacity to engage in that targeting of what would be legitimate targets under international law as resistance.

“Of course, that’s the definition, those acts are illegitimate, and that’s why they have been proscribed but we need to be careful here because people do have a right to resist.”

His argument had already been made by the Palestinian Authority whose Foreign Ministry branded the designation “an unjustified attack on the Palestinian people, who are subjected to the most heinous forms of occupation, and historical injustice established by the Balfour Declaration.”

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, slammed the UK ban as “continued aggression” on Palestinians and their rights.

Imad Al-Agha, a spokesman for the Hamas factions, said labelling Hamas as a terrorist group gives Israel “a green light to continue its aggression and crimes against our Palestinian people, which is the responsibility of the British government.”

He stressed that the decision “directly targets and antagonises the Palestinian people and denies their legitimate rights to struggle for liberation from occupation.”

Al-Agha warned Britain that banning Hamas represents an extension of its “colonial policy”, calling on the European country to instead pursue “practical steps to atone for its historical crime represented by the Balfour Declaration.”

Jordanian lawmakers also denounced the decision to all of Hamas as a “terrorist organization”. In a statement, 75 members of the 130-seat House of Representatives described the British move as “an aggression on the Palestinian people and the Arab nation.”
The statement said the UK decision was a “reward to the Zionist (Israeli) occupation which kills the Palestinian people…and besieges the people of Gaza.”

Priti Patel, Home Secretary, who has been the driving force behind the legislation, has framed it as an imperative to protect Britain’s Jewish community – even though Hamas has never threatened attacks on UK soil, nor is it known to have carried out any attacks outside of Israel-Palestine.

Writing for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think-tank, Senior Policy Fellow Hugh Lovatt argued that, despite the fact that proscription is portrayed by the Government as an effective measure to weaken Hamas, it will have no effect on their operations.

‘The group, which has no formal presence in the UK, has been under a plethora of sanctions for more than two decades, including EU financial sanctions which applied to the UK while it was a member. Moreover, the UK had already made it an offence to provide money or other property for the purposes of terrorism under Schedule 3 of the Terrorism Act, provisions that were further strengthened by the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act’, wrote Lovatt.

He added that decades of sanctions, targeted assassinations, and a choking blockade by Israel have demonstrably failed to decisively weaken Hamas. ‘The government seemed to admit this during the parliamentary debate, noting that, despite years of sanctions, Hamas continues to have “significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry.”

He also asserted Patel’s decision to ban the political wing of Hamas was motivated not by as she presents national security concerns but rather political ambition.

‘At its heart, the move is good politics for Patel’s Conservative Party, allowing it to demonstrate strong pro-Israel credentials while scoring points against the rival Labour Party, whose previous leader Jeremy Corbyn was seen as having pro-Palestinian sympathies as well as warm relations with Hamas.

All of this, in turn, is undoubtedly good for Patel herself, as she seeks to boost her standing within the party for her future leadership ambitions.’

“Hamas is fundamentally and rabidly antisemitic and antisemitism is an enduring evil which I will never tolerate. Jewish people routinely feel unsafe – at school, in the streets, when they worship, in their homes, and online,” said Patel.

“This step will strengthen the case against anyone who waves a Hamas flag in the United Kingdom, an act that is bound to make Jewish people feel unsafe,” she added.

In 2017, as Secretary of State for International Development, Patel made a freelance trip to Israel without informing then Prime Minister, Theresa May, or Boris Johnson, then Foreign Secretary.

While pretending to be on a private holiday, Patel held a series of secret meetings with high-ranking Israeli officials, including the then Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Lord Polak, honorary president of the Conservative Friends of Israel, personally arranged 12 of these meetings.

 

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