Swiss lawmakers have called on the government to label Hamas a terrorist organization as the traditionally neutral country reconsiders its Middle-East policy.
(Bloomberg) — Swiss lawmakers have called on the government to label Hamas a terrorist organization as the traditionally neutral country reconsiders its Middle-East policy.
So far, Switzerland — unlike other European countries — has not given the Palestinian group such a classification. The Security Policy Committee of Parliament’s Lower House on Tuesday voted unanimously to change that stance, the body’s president Mauro Tuena told Bloomberg.
“We demand that Hamas be recognized as a terrorist organization and that the group be banned in Switzerland,” he said. “We want to target its money flows and enable security agencies to surveil people who work for Hamas in this country.”
If named a terrorist organization, Swiss banks would be obliged to report transactions related to Hamas. This could essentially cut off the group from Switzerland’s financial system and threaten its funding.
“Basically the entire West has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization. In the US, London and the EU, Hamas can’t open bank accounts,” Mark Pieth, a finance and law expert who is emeritus professor at the university of Basel, said in an interview. “But in Switzerland it could indeed do this, until now.”
Money Laundering Rules
The debate comes as Switzerland prepares new rules to force more disclosure of who actually owns bank accounts, which were announced in August. These are aimed to crack down on money laundering, whether it be by drug dealers, rogue regimes or terrorists.
The plan includes a federal register where companies and other legal entities would have to add the names of their beneficial owners, making it harder for criminals and others to hide assets from police and tax authorities. The register, however, won’t be public.
Finance expert Pieth said there are smaller banks specialized on Islamic banking with branches in Switzerland that might offer services to organizations such as Hamas. “This could now become difficult,” he added.
It’s unclear whether the government, which is set to meet on Wednesday, will back the motion. Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis has previously voiced concern that international aid for Palestinians may end up supporting militant organizations. A foreign ministry spokesman said the government will respond to the lawmakers’ request in due course.
On Monday, Cassis said that “Switzerland stands in solidarity with the Israeli people.”
Officially changing Switzerland’s position on Hamas requires a vote of the full parliament, which only meets again in December. Still, in the Swiss system, committee votes like Tuesday’s often set the course of future decisions.
–With assistance from Hugo Miller.
(Updates with details and comment from fifth paragraph.)
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.