The Archbishop of Canterbury said Monday that in order for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to reach a deal there may need to be a seat at the table for the Hamas terrorist group, but cautioned the timing must be right or disaster could ensue.
Justin Welby, on a 10-day tour of the holy land, spoke to the British Guardian newspaper and Christian Today, after having visited the Gaza Strip last week.
“The archbishop said the time may come when parties seeking a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needed to include Hamas in talks,” the Guardian reported, and then quoted Welby saying: “In any place where there’s serious conflict, there’s a point where you need to talk to everyone, but it has got to be the point where you can make some progress.”
Including extremists in talks — both Palestinian and Israeli — should be kept as an option, Welby reportedly suggested, apparently referring to hard-line settler groups on the Israeli side.
When in Gaza, Welby, the head of the church in England, did not meet with Hamas members in keeping in line with British government policy. Hamas is recognized as a terror group by Israel, the US and the EU. Israel has repeatedly said it will not negotiate with Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction, until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel.
“There’s a moment, which I’m not saying is now, when it is possible for it to bring rewards. But the moment is not any moment — you can do it at exactly the wrong time and cause a complete meltdown and undermine all the resistance to extremism.”
That can then lead to a situation in which “the people in the middle become more disempowered, and you end up privileging those who cause the most difficulty, you reward bad behavior by attention,” Welby warned.
For the time being, “there’s no obvious fix that is within anyone’s grasp at the moment,” Welby conceded. “There are things that governments could do, but they’re not practically do-able in the sense that people have the courage or the confidence.”
Welby on Thursday spent more than three hours in the beleaguered Hamas-ruled coastal strip, which has a small persecuted Christian community.
Also Monday the archbishop prayed in Bethlehem and toured areas where Israel’s security barrier — intended to prevent terrorist infiltration from the West Bank — has separated some Palestinian landowners from their property.
“You cannot come and hear the testimonies I heard, you cannot hear from the people who live here, without your heart becoming heavier and heavier, and more and more burdened, with that sense of people whose history has led them to a place where all they have known is disintegrating,” Welby said. “As always in these times, it is the weak, the poor who are shoved to the side. The emotional reaction is one of profound grief and sorrow, and of prayer that there will be justice and security for all.”
Welby visited Jerusalem last Wednesday, and was joined by UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis for prayers at the Western Wall.
In what Mirvis described as “a unique moment in history,” the two religious leaders toured the Old City of Jerusalem and visited Yad Vashem — the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
Earlier on Wednesday, he was in Jordan where he led prayers at the Bethany Beyond the Jordan archaeological site, believed to be the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth. Welby is also scheduled to visit Egypt during his tour of the region. His last visit to Israel was in 2013, shortly before he was enthroned as archbishop.