Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.
The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”
To be fair, Italian politicians are not the only ones contemplating dialogue with Hamas: more than 100 British parliamentarians called for dialogue because “peace results from discussions between enemies as well as friends.” Britain’s former shadow Foreign Secretary and one-time chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, Michael Ancram, went even further, in a Sunday Telegraph editorial in early July, by recommending that newly-appointed Middle East Envoy Tony Blair should “dance with wolves.”
As for Prodi himself, at least he is consistent. After all, in his first interview after winning last year’s parliamentary elections, in April 2006, he said to al-Jazeera: “I shall commit myself at the European level to shape a new position with respect to the new Palestinian government. I am looking with great attention at the signs of an opening being made by Hamas.” Soon after, Prodi spoke to then-Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the phone, becoming the first European head of government to do so.
We shouldn’t wonder, then, what Prodi meant when he linked dialogue with Hamas to its possible “evolution.” Clearly, the Italian Prime Minister is being optimistic. Yet, can he point to any evolution at all since April 2006? How long will Europeans resist the temptation to engage in dialogue with Hamas?