The British government has expanded its links with Hamas in recent weeks, according to the militant organisation's leader, Ismail Haniyeh.Actually, Conflicts Forum includes a member of the House of Lords.
Mr Haniyeh, who was the Palestinian prime minister until last month, claims that contacts between Hamas and Britain have increased since they worked together to free Alan Johnston, the BBC Gaza correspondent, who was held captive in Gaza for almost four months.
"I cannot deny that there are now other contacts, other channels of communication with the UK and these involve people of high rank, although I am not personally involved," he claimed in an interview with the Guardian.
"The main aim of the contacts is to improve our democracy and governance. This is just part of the many contacts that are going on with other governments around the world."
He added that Britain wanted to keep the contacts secret.
Officials at the Foreign Office and the British consulate in Jerusalem denied that there had been political links with Hamas and insisted that any contacts had been purely "humanitarian and consular". They said it was possible that Mr Haniyeh had misunderstood the work of British non-governmental organisations such as Forward Thinking and Conflicts Forum, which have established contacts with Hamas. Both groups work with former government advisers and civil servants and members of the House of Lords.
Conflicts Forum is interesting from another perspective. It recognizes that Islam is political Islam, and wants to talk with both "non-violent" Islamists and terrorists. Reading a little further into the website it is apparent that it does not only want to engage in dialogue - it is meant to be a cheerleading section for terrorists. Its last newsletter said: "Western leaders can neither match nor relate to Haniyah's stature as a politician and a human being."
Forward Thinking, on the other hand, "aims to promote a more inclusive peace process by engaging the religiously motivated Palestinian and Israeli political parties who have been previously excluded from ... dialogue." Yet from its website I could not find a single reference to them speaking with any religiously motivated Israeli parties, nor any pictures of them speaking to any Jews in yarmulkas. It also appears to be a front for advocating Islamist interests under the guise of peaceful resolution.
But let's look further into what the Guardian has to say:
The British government has sanctioned unofficial visits to the UK for senior Hamas officials in Gaza over the past 18 months. In one of the first Ghazi Hamed, the former editor of Al Risala, the Hamas newspaper, visited the BBC and the Guardian. Ahmed Yusef, an adviser to Mr Haniyeh, has also visited the UK.And he's not lying about the 20 MPs who want to talk to Hamas, either.
The Johnston kidnapping forced Britain to change its policy of not publicly meeting Hamas officials. Richard Makepeace, Britain's consul general in Jerusalem, twice travelled to Gaza City to request Mr Haniyeh's help in freeing Johnston. Mr Haniyeh assured Mr Makepeace that he would do everything in his power to free Johnston and Mr Hamed was asked to head the negotiations with the kidnappers.
In May Mr Hamed was again invited to the UK and attended a Hay festival event that was also attended by Gordon Brown, then chancellor. The two did not speak.
Johnston was freed on July 4 after Hamas surrounded the compound of the Dogmush family, the kidnappers.
David Miliband, the foreign secretary, thanked Hamas for its help in freeing the BBC correspondent. Mr Haniyeh said he was pleased with the respect and gratitude shown by the British government and organisations for Hamas's assistance.
"The deputy consul came to thank me personally and the consul general and the foreign minister thanked us in press conferences that were broadcast all over the world. In addition we have received thanks from the Johnston family, British NGOs and the British media. They have shown us a lot of respect," he said. "In addition, 20 members of the British parliament signed a motion to renew contacts with Hamas."
All in all, it appears that Haniyeh is telling the truth and the British denials are ringing hollow.
And what does Britain get out of this relationship? Haniyeh again:
Mr Haniyeh said that Hamas intended to enforce law and order in Gaza but admitted that the kidnappers of Johnston, who also kidnapped two journalists from Fox TV in Gaza last year, remained free. "But they are being watched closely and are subject to other controls which I can't tell you," he said.Ah, they are under double secret detention!