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Volume 785: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving to removing Hamas from their list of terrorist organisations, in the light of its reconciliation agreement with Fatah and reports of its willingness to hold new elections and to recognise the international frontiers of Israel.

My Lords, I declare an indirect interest in that since 2007 I have visited many Hamas leaders in both Gaza and the West Bank. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name.

My Lords, the military wing of Hamas is a proscribed organisation. It is not government policy to provide a running commentary on any proscribed organisation. The Terrorism Act 2000 allows the Home Secretary to consider deproscription by written application.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Of course I did not expect her to say yes immediately. Nevertheless, does she agree that the situation has changed profoundly since Hamas was first listed? Would delisting not help all sides to be rather less intransigent than they have been up to now? Would it not build confidence among all Palestinians and help support their new Government of unity? Will she at least take away this Question and discuss it with her ministerial colleagues, since it crosses departmental boundaries?

I acknowledge that the noble Lord raises a challenging and complex issue. It is difficult to predict the impact that a particular course of action may have as the situation is so complex. The UK remains a strong supporter of promoting peace.

My Lords, the reconciliation agreement between the two Palestinian factions is surely to be welcomed and potentially gives Israel a negotiating partner. However, will the Minister confirm that Hamas still calls for the destruction of Israel, that its military wing still builds tunnels to attack Israel, and that it sends rockets into southern Israel?

My Lords, I acknowledge what the noble Lord is saying. However, it is government policy not to provide a running commentary on any proscribed organisation.

My Lords, as Britain was a signatory of the Balfour Declaration, and as the Government support a two-state solution, does the Minister think the time has come to recognise the state of Palestine, as more than 130 other countries have done?

My Lords, as we approach the centenary we are conscious of the sensitivities that many people have about the declaration and the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish community in Palestine. We also recognise the continued impediment of the occupation towards securing political rights. We are clear that we want to see the creation of a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel.

My Lords, while I am sure that we all welcome any indication of a more peaceful approach from what undoubtedly has been a clear terrorist organisation for some time, does my noble friend agree that the very minimum we should require from Hamas and others is that they acknowledge the basic right of the state of Israel to exist and to be fully part of the international community, and to respect its democracy?

My Lords, the Question refers to the international frontiers of Israel. Do those frontiers include the Golan Heights and east Jerusalem?

My Lords, the noble Lord is straying into Foreign Office territory, on which I am not yet an expert. I shall have to get back to him on that, if that is okay.

My Lords, while the actions of the military wing of Hamas have been wrong, totally unacceptable and cannot be condoned, is it not important to recognise in political terms that Hamas is a pluralist organisation? Is it not vital to strengthen the more moderate elements within Hamas, particularly at this time of reconciliation between the PLO and Hamas? Should we not remember that in our own history, starting with John Major and pursued by the Labour Government that followed, we began to make progress on a solution in Northern Ireland when it was recognised that we must find ways of talking to the political wing of the IRA?

My Lords, as I said earlier, we will not provide a running commentary on any proscribed organisations. I have already laid out some of what we expect from Hamas.

My Lords, what is the mechanism by which a proscribed organisation becomes delisted? Does it require a court process to achieve that?

My Lords, it beggars belief that we are discussing, in the centenary week of Balfour, talk of removing Hamas from the terrorist list. The organisation has not renounced terror and it still calls for killing Jews and the destruction of Israel. Does the Minister agree that any reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, which should be welcomed, should require that Hamas be disarmed, because Israel certainly cannot be expected to negotiate with a terror group that calls for its destruction?

My Lords, our policy on Hamas is very clear. The group must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. We now expect to see credible movement towards these conditions, which remain the benchmark against which its intentions should be judged. We call on those in the region with influence over Hamas to encourage the group to take these steps.

My Lords, I do not wish to pursue the specific issue raised in the Question but to raise a more general point. What reviews have the Government undertaken to establish exactly what impact proscribing an organisation actually has, as opposed to what it is intended to have, on the unacceptable activities of those who were in membership of that organisation as opposed to the impact of proscription on the organisation itself?

My Lords, what I can say about the impact of proscription is that those groups are illegal entities in this country. They are not allowed to promote their policies or to progress some of the things that they want—for example, the destruction of Israel.