One of the unique attributes of being human is our ability to, apparently, learn from our mistakes. It allows us to progress, grow and develop into what we want. The hardest part however of this process is identifying what is or isn’t a mistake. Thankfully, our other brilliant skill of hindsight comes into play.
With the benefit of this hindsight, we can now clearly see two mistakes taken by the international community which should be learned from. Firstly the strategy towards Iran. The mistake here has not been the willingness to enter into negotiations with Iran over its nuclear profile. The mistake was bringing all the other outstanding issues with Iran, into the nuclear negotiations and then doing precisely nothing about them.
Before the start of attempts to resolve Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, the issues that divided Iran and the international community were wide as they were deep: Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah, Iranian attempts to destabilize Iraq whilst under Coalition control, and the numerous worrying human rights abuses that were reported from within the country.
These were a seemingly insurmountable pile of divisions that would need some serious and ongoing commitments to change. Yet, when the nuclear negotiations started, they were brushed under the carpet.
The nuclear negotiations have gone well, for Iran anyway. This has meant that relations between Iran and the international community have rapidly warmed up. The UK has decided to reopen its embassy in Tehran, two years after it pulled out, the EU have increased a number of delegations visiting the country, and the US is considering some small scale military cooperation with its once sworn enemy.
The problem is that everything else that has divided the nations has not disappeared, it has not ended and it has certainly not become any easier to deal with. Iran still funds and trains Hezbollah which constitutes a substantial threat to both Israeli and American interests in the region. Iran still has aspirations towards spreading its influence and dominance in more unstable states. Finally, Iran continues to clamp down on protests and free speech and basic human rights. Despite the diplomatic cuddly side of President Rouhani, Iran is not changing.
The problem with mistakes however is that they are likely to be repeated until a lesson is learnt. Therefore round two of the same mistake can be found in the international community’s response to the Palestinian unity government.
Since 2003, the EU has classified Hamas as a terrorist organization. It has watched closely as Hamas has been associated with or undertaken acts of terror against Israeli, American and European interests in the region. It has continuously been condemned not only for its track record of violence, but its simply appalling human rights record; most explicitly seen during its iron-fist rule of the Gaza strip since 2007.
Then came the unity government; a move that was aimed at apparently promoting peace and a two state solution in the conflict. It is true to say that reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is necessary for a two state solution; this can only be done under the acceptance of nonviolence.
Yet this was not accepted and Hamas suddenly became a part of the Palestinian government. Importantly the international community quickly turned around and accepted this as fact and decided to move on without demanding that this most basic of principles be respected.
Just as with Iran, with Hamas all other issues are seemingly forgotten. We no longer talk of human rights, nor of a history of violence and abuse. Yet by doing so we open ourselves up to the surprise of seeing Hamas do what it has done for a while now, act and continue to disrupt peace wherever possible.
The kidnapping of these three Israeli boys is something which should rightly sadden and shock us, but it should certainly not surprise anyone. Hamas has not changed its tune, and the serious question should be asked, why would it without any pressure to do so?
Dealing with Hamas, as with dealing with Iran, requires going into the negotiating room with eyes wide open and with everything on the table. We cannot simply forget or ignore the history, the context and above all, the reality of what we are dealing with for the sake of political expediency.