Wednesday, January 31, 2007
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
"A group of senior British MPs has held private meetings with prominent members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, despite the international boycott imposed on the PA since the Islamic faction took office last March.
The parliamentarians, a Tory whip, two senior Labour backbenchers and a Liberal Democrat peer, are easily the most influential group of British politicians to have met senior members of the PA cabinet since Hamas's election victory in 2006. British ministers and officials are precluded as a matter of policy from meeting members of the Palestinian cabinet.
The meetings, which took place last week in Ramallah, came to light yesterday as the Commons Select Committee on International Development strongly criticised the boycott and accused Western governments of pushing the Hamas government closer to Iran by its policy of isolating the PA.
The all-party report said that the international embargo had stripped Hamas of any real accountability for its performance to the Palestinian people, caused widespread misery and hardship among Palestinians, and forced the Hamas government to look elsewhere for support, including Iran. It also urged the international community to hold Israel to the agreement it signed in November 2005 to facilitate movement of goods from Gaza.
Last week's separate all-party delegation, including Richard Burden, chairman of the Britain Palestine parliamentary group and the Opposition whip Crispin Blunt had initially expected to hold talks in Gaza last Friday with Ismail Haniyeh and the foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar but were forced to turn back at the Erez checkpoint because of the factional violence between Hamas and Fatah."