For the first time, Tony Blair has said he and other world leaders were wrong to give in to Israeli pressure to boycott Hamas after it won the Palestinian elections in 2006.
Mr Blair, who was Prime Minister at the time, supported President George W Bush’s push to halt aid to and cut ties with the newly elected Hamas-led Palestinian authority unless it agreed to recognise Israel and renounce violence.
A year after Hamas rejected the terms, the boycott and Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza came into force, and remains in effect today.
Mr Blair was appointed Special Envoy of the Middle East Quartet, which comprises of the US, EU, UN and Russia, the day he resigned as Prime Minister.
In an interview with The Observer, the former Prime Minister said: “In retrospect I think we should have, right at the very beginning, tried to pull [Hamas] into a dialogue and shifted their positions. I think that’s where I would be in retrospect.
“But obviously it was very difficult, the Israelis were very opposed to it. But you know we could have probably worked out a way whereby we did – which in fact we ended up doing anyway, informally.”
Although Mr Blair did not elaborate on the nature of the British Government’s “informal” contact with Hamas, he appeared to be referring to talks between MI6 and Hamas representatives to secure the release of a British journalist kidnapped in Gaza in 2007.
His remarks come as Hamas agreed to hold general elections in Gaza in order to bring about its long-running feud with the Fatah movement.
The rival factions signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo last week after two days of Egypt-brokered negotiations. The groups fought a short civil war in Gaza in 2007, and since then Hamas has governed the small coastal enclave.
Hamas has refused to recognise the state of Israel or denounce the use of violence, but earlier this year changed its founding charter to suggest it would be willing to assent to a Palestinian state along the lines of the 1967 Green Line.