Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

You can’t take on the Taleban with a rolled-up copy of the New Statesman

28/02/2011, 07:00:41 AM

by Michael Dugher

The timing of David Cameron’s trade mission to the Middle East last week, during which he took a large delegation of business figures, many from the defence industries, was awful.  The government’s response to events in Libya and the wider region have been condemned as a complacent shambles. The prime minister, a former marketing man, tried to “rebrand” the trip when he should have known that he needed to remain in the UK to “take charge” and to manage the implications of the growing crisis.

The prime minister should also have had the judgement to know that it was not an appropriate time to be pursuing trade interests with regimes that had begun to attack pro-democracy campaigners in their own countries, and that the priority needed to be the safety and security of British nationals. Douglas Alexander summed it up best:

“I support the promotion of British exports and British goods; that is important to our economic recovery. But I think the last couple of weeks have been a very salutary reminder to David Cameron and to others that foreign policy embraces more than simply trade policy”.

And similarly Ed Miliband wrote in yesterday’s Observer: “Trying to pretend a trade mission for defence manufacturers and other businesses is a ‘democracy tour’ doesn’t cut it”.

But Cameron’s trip also sparked an avalanche of criticism from those, mainly on the left, who remain totally opposed to very existence of the British defence industry. Twitter, in particular, was alive all last week with angry tweeters denouncing the “arms trade” and the “arms salesmen” on board the PM’s plane. The list of major British defence companies who jumped on board the prime minister’s flight included Cobham, Thales UK, QinetiQ and – cue for an especially big boo and an extra large hiss – for that favourite pantomime villain, BAE Systems.  The list also included firms like Rolls Royce, Serco and Amec, all of whom have large defence interests. (more…)

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Carry on up the Suez: gutless and incompetent Tories bring shame on us all

25/02/2011, 04:30:59 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The epoch changing events in the Middle East, lest we forget, were precipitated by Tarek el-Tayyib Mohamed Ben Bouazizi. Just over a month later, Karim Medhat Ennarah, an Egyptian protester told the Guardian, with tears in his eyes, that:

“For 18 days we have withstood teargas, rubber bullets, live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, thugs on horseback, the scepticism and fear of our loved ones, and the worst sort of ambivalence from an international community that claims to care about democracy. But we held our ground. We did it”.

In the intervening period, the most that William Hague could do to respond to the beauty and bravery of these protestors was to mouth almost exactly the same measly words as Hosni Mubarak about an orderly transition. Britain managed to be dismissed as at best irrelevant, as Krishnan Guru-Murthy noted, both by the Mubarek regime and by those risking their lives to overthrow it.

Our Garibaldi, David Cameron, wasn’t content. He set off on a crusade for freedom. He was the first western leader to visit post-revolutionary Egypt. All very noble. But are arms really the first thing required in the birth pangs of democracy? And is the most fundamental right of British citizens not protection from indiscriminate violence? (more…)

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As we celebrate new Middle Eastern democracy, let’s not forget the old one

14/02/2011, 12:00:33 PM

by Michael Dugher

When interviewed this morning on the Today programme, the Israeli deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, said he “very much applauded the Egyptian people” but he warned that the “uncertainty” in Egypt created vulnerabilities for Israel and the wider region. Yesterday, on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show, quartet envoy, Tony Blair, described the events as a “pivotal moment” and urged the West to engage with supporters of democracy and help countries evolve and move in the right direction. Significantly, he said that progress could unblock the Middle East peace process and be of “huge benefit”.

This cautious, yet hopeful, outlook comes after William Hague’s tour of the region last week. I was in Israel at the time and Hague’s ill-judged intervention, where he seemed unwilling to back the Egyptian pro-democracy protesters, while at the same time calling Israel (the only democracy in the region) “belligerent”, was viewed with a mixture of despair and resignation. Hague’s inept and insensitive comments reinforced the perception, wrongly in my view, that the UK and Europe have slid into a position of hostility towards Israel and therefore are unable to play their part as honest brokers in the peace process.  Regrettably, Hague’s intervention can only serve to diminish the UK’s influence in the region. (more…)

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The Palestinians will not find peace through bloodshed

07/02/2011, 02:00:43 PM

by Dan McCurry

Malcolm X once told black Americans, “You didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; Plymouth Rock landed on you”.

Millions of people from the developing world have risked their lives to get to the West, while the Palestinians had the western world come to them, in the form of Israel. But where this should have been an opportunity, it was more like a great big rock landing on them. They were simply unable to cope.

The photo shows me, in 1986, with one foot in Israel and one foot in Egypt. My anxiety is due to the barbed wire getting caught on my T-shirt. Back then there was no border on the West Bank, never mind a wall. Palestinians were free to come and go across Israel. They worked, they travelled, they engaged in politics. There was violence, but there was also optimism. Then came the suicide bombers.

The word “solution” in the phrase “two-state solution” is misleading. It suggests that the problems will end if property and land rights are settled. It does not promise to create jobs or prosperity for the Palestinians, but it does promise to end any further justification for Palestinian violence.

It was a top-down policy, insisted on by the international community. It created trepidation in the West Bank, with graffiti appearing on walls calling for a one-state solution. The Palestinians want jobs, but the solution seems to promise a permanent partition, with a permanent separation wall. Washington’s policy was never born from reading the writing on the wall.

Wherever I went in Israel, in the 80s, the building sites were full of Arabs. I asked an Israeli if this was somehow racist. He told me that Israelis wanted to get into construction, but the Palestinians wouldn’t let them in. Today, construction workers are imported from Asia. Technology companies adopt restrictive employment policies for “security reasons”. The Israeli economy is being denied to the “ungrateful” Palestinians. (more…)

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Ed Miliband’s Israel problem, by Dan Hodges

19/10/2010, 09:00:28 AM

Ed Miliband has an Israel problem. Or, depending on your perspective, Israel has a problem with Ed Miliband.

The response to the foreign affairs section of his conference speech was dominated by Iraq. His brother’s angry reaction, which in truth reflected David’s personal antipathy towards Harriet, as much as his distaste for that particular passage, led the news bulletins. But it was the section on Israel that reverberated.

“The new generation must challenge old thinking”, he said. And duly hurled down the gauntlet. There needed to be international pressure on Israel over the ending of the moratorium on settlements. The attack on the Gaza flotilla was wrong. Israel must accept and recognize, in actions not just words, the Palestinian right to statehood. The Gaza blockage must be lifted. He would “strain every sinew to make that happen”. He would, of course, always defend Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. (more…)

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Ian Austin deplores Cameron’s double talk on Gaza

28/07/2010, 10:47:45 AM

“If I become Prime Minister, Israel has a friend who will never turn his back on her” pledged David Cameron when speaking to Conservative Friends of Israel last year.

He used the same speech to argue against those who claim there is an equivalence between Israel and Hamas. “Israel is a democracy – Hamas want to create a theocracy. Israel strives to protect innocent life – Hamas target innocent life,” he said.

But for David Cameron talk is clearly cheap. (more…)

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