Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The ballot box and the Armalite, again

Jack Straw is a busy man these days. A day after putting the UK's EU referendum on life support, he went on a visit to Israel and walked into a row about meetings between British diplomats and Hamas representatives. The Israelis are unhappy for the usual reason of not liking the idea of terrorists gaining legitimacy:

Shuli Davidovich, spokeswomen at the Israeli Embassy in London, said: "Any dialogue will empower the extremists and not the moderates in the Palestinian Authority. "As long as Hamas continued to go through the route of terrorism we can't perceive it as a political organisation."

Straw's response is to note that the meeting only took place with elected representatives:

"We have a diplomatic job to do as others do, and our diplomats in the occupied territories - as anywhere else in the world - see part of their job, indeed part of their job is, to have contact with elected representatives.

"In the occupied territories it is de rigeur, it is required, that if a diplomat of whatever level goes into a town they go and talk to the mayor.

It strikes us that governments continue to walk into this rhetorical trap of saying "we don't have meetings with terrorists" but then of course find that there's no way round the need to talk to elected representatives. And of course the British government should know this from their dealings with the IRA and Sinn Fein. Things get even trickier if a transcript comes out but luckily that only happened in 1999, when much legitimacy had already been achieved by the Shinners.

Straw is not alone in this dilemma. As we noted recently, Christopher Hitchens and factions within the US government have fallen into exactly the same trap regarding negotiations with Sunni militants in Iraq. At one level, the phrase "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is an empty formula, because it implies complete subjectivity. But terrorists with an electoral mandate are a very awkward proposition. Indeed, we don't believe that the Israeli government itself has never ever had its own feelers out to Hamas either.

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