When Lord Lothian invited International Development Minister Alan Duncan to address the Global Strategy Forum at the National Liberal Club today on the Arab Spring three years on, he can have had no inkling that Mr Duncan would be ministerially defenestrated the previous night. But in a way that was an advantage as the speaker was therefore bound by no government conventions and limitations and was able to give a wide-ranging yet penetrating overview of recent events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). I liked his concept of “3D” British foreign policy, i.e. diplomacy, development and defence working in conjunction, and he has clearly put his experience in the oil industry to good use while in office, though he was pretty pessimistic about developments in Libya, in particular. I queried him on Egypt, as he’d said the West was maybe too quick to welcome the ousting of Hosni Mubarak; surely, I said, the West has been too quick to welcome the arrival of Field Marshal Sisi, given the appalling current record of torture and imprisonment, which has even affected journalists working for international media outlets, such as my former BBC colleague, and now Al Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste? Where Alan Duncan and I were much more aligned was when he spoke of the need to approach the Arab-Israeli conflict from a position of principle — in other words recognising the compound injustice (and indeed humiliation) perpetrated against the Palestinians by successive governments of Israel. It would have been good to press him further on his hints at possible consequences of the tensions between different Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, but maybe now he is more of a free agent it will be possible to winkle more out of him in such important debates.
Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 15th July, 2014
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: al-Jazeera, Alan Duncan, Arab Spring, Egypt, Field Marshal Sisi, GCC, Global Strategy Forum, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, Libya, Lord Lothian, Palestine, Peter Greste | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th April, 2014
This afternoon, at the Liberal International Congress in Rotterdam, I successfully moved an amendment on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats to the Middle East section of the traditional World Today resolution, reviewing topical issues of global concern. Since the text had first been drafted, news came through that Israel was pulling out of talks with the Palestinians because of the new deal between Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) and Gaza’s Hamas, which have agreed to form a joint platform. The British amendment praised John Kerry for working tirelessly to get the peace negotations back on track, but criticised Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for pulling the plug on talks. Moreover, negotiating with a united front of Palestinians is more likely to mean that Hamas will clmp down on Islamic Jihad and other extremist groups, I believe. I argued from the position of a Brit who lived through IRA bombings in Manchester and London and therefore understands that one makes peace not with friends but with enemies. I got quite emotional when recalling the state dinner given earlier this month by Queen Elizabeth to the Irish President, at which former Sinn Fein bogey-man Martin McGuinness was welcomed by the monarch, despite the fact that the IRA blew up her cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in 1979. I said that I looked forward to the day when Shimon Peres, or whoever succeeeds him as Israeli President, welcomes Palestinian leaders, including current Hamas figures to his residence, because that will mean that peace and security have become a reality. It saddened — but didn”t suprise — me that the Israelis present protested that we cannot expect them to talk to “terrorists”, and a few prominent pro-Israelis — including outgoing Liberal Internatinal President Hans Van Baalen also oppossed the amendment and the idea that talks should resume. Fortunately, the amendment was carried — albeit by not a very large margin. and with many abstentions — which I thought was a very positive result. One thing that particularly saddens me, however, is that so many Israelis — even many Liberals — don”t realise that their narrative of the conflict doesn’t hold water and that not just Europe but increasingly many Americans (including American Jews) are no longer prepared to stand up for Israel, right or wrong.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Binyamin Netanyahu, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, Hans Van Baalen, IRA, Islamic Jihad, Israel, John Kerry, Liberal International, Lord Louis Mountabatten, Martin McGuinness, Middle East, Palestine, Queen Elizabeth, Rotterdam, Shimon Peres, Sinn Fein | 3 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st August, 2013
As a child of the 1950s and 1960s, I was raised on The Lone Ranger (black and white TV version) and other Westerns, in which the noble white cowboys and sheriffs fought against the dastardly redskins, as the wagon trains carried settlers across the Mid-West, in the name of civilization and Christianity. One just took it for granted that this crucial period in US history was an enterprise to be admired, and it was only much later, when I had acquired an educated, critical mind, that I realized that Justice had been stood on its head. The Indians were desperately trying to halt their dispossession, in the face of brute force and more advanced firepower, and it was the settlers and those who protected them who were the real baddies. I’m reminded of this by what is happening in Occupied Palestine today. Again, as a child, I grew up in an environment in which the creation of the new state of Israel was seen as a heroic endeavour, in which the young labourers on the kibbutzim were involved in a noble purpose, the Jewish people risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust. And had Israel remained within the boundaries drawn up by the United Nations that argument might have continued to hold water, even though the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who were made refugees by the Nakba or catastrophe of 1948 would see things otherwise. But Israel did not remain within those boundaries, and many within Likud and some even more extreme political groups in Israel persist in their expansionist aims and colonising Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in defiance of International Law, and the feeble protests of the West. Once more, the narrative enunciated by Israel, AIPAC and other pro-Zionist groups is that the “settlers” in what was formerly Jordanian territory and is meant to be the basis for a putative Palestinian state are engaged in a noble enterprise, like the colonisation by white immigrants of the American West. And once again, Justice has been stood on its head. It is the Palestinians, whose land is being appropriated, olive trees cut down and children intimidated, who are the victims and the Israeli settlers and the IDF army that protects them that are the villains. The ultimate irony, of course, is that while in the short term the Palestinians will be the losers, in the long term, if this occupation and absorption by Israel of Palestinian territories persists, demographic trends will mean the Jewish state will de facto cease to exist. I think that’s called “shooting yourself in the foot”, as cowboys might say.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st November, 2012
After several false starts, a truce has been agreed between Israel and Gaza, with both Egypt and the United States playing a significant role in the process. This will be a relief both for those Israelis who have suffered rocket fire from Hamas and from other groups in Gaza and the far greater number of Gazans who have been the deliberate or collateral targets of Israeli firepower. But does the truce offer more than a breathing space? Essentially, the core situation has not changed: Gaza is still subject to a cruel blockade, which means that many products, including building materials, are kept out by Israel and even humanitarian aid convoys from Turkey and other friendly states cannot get through by sea. Israel has made no firm offer to lift that blockade, though at least the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo is more sympathetic to the Gazan’s plight than Hosni Mubarak was. What has received little attention, though, is the amount of protest that has broken out in the Occupied West Bank, causing some Arab commentators to wonder whether a Third Intifada is on the cards. What seems to me to be certain is that until the Israeli government changes its policies and starts the evacuation of the West Bank, rather than continuing to build settlements both there and in East Jerusalem in defiance of International Law, there will be no stability in the region. To my mind, the Arab-Israeli conflict is merely on hold, and probably not for very long.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th November, 2012
When the Welfare Association* conceived the idea of a fundraising gala dinner in aid of disadvantaged children in Palestine, to be held at the Bloomsbury Big Top in central London, they can have had no idea that that event this evening would coincide with renewed fighting between Gaza’s Hamas and Israel, in which several Palestinian children have already been victims. The Middle East, which I have been following for well over 40 years, is an unending tragedy, complex and multi-dimensional. But any objective observer must come to the conclusion that in all of this chaos the Palestinians have been the big losers. And as so often in conflict situations the humanitarian burden falls most heavily on those least able to bear it. So this evening, around 600 people gathered under the big top to be entertained by trapeze artists and acrobats, the Palestinian-Jordanian singer Zeina Barhoum and other musicians, but most important, to demonstrate solidarity with the children of Palestine — tens of thousands of them disabled or else traumatised by conflict — whose lives can be eased thanks to projects for which a healthy six-figure sum was raised. Clare Short, the former Labour MP who nobly resigned from the party in protest at Tony Blair’s illegal war in Iraq, made a short speech, but those of us who were there needed little reminding of the necessity and urgency of the cause. It was good that many young people who have high-earning jobs in the City were there, to bid at auction for works of art by Andrew Martin, Alexander Mcqueen and others. Barclays Bank was also a ‘platinum sponsor’. Coincidentally, the Arab League held an emergency meeting in Cairo today to discuss how to react to the current crisis. The Qatari Foreign Minister warned about the potential emptiness of yet another declaration. At least tonight those at the Welfare Association dinner made a real contribution that will get to those who most need assistance.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alexander Mcqueen, Andrew Martin, Arab League, Bloomsbury Big Top, Cairo, Clare Short, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Qatar, Tony Blair, Welfare Association, Zeina Barhoum | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th September, 2012
This month Palestinians are commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, in which many hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians — many of them women and children — were slaughtered in those two refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut by Lebanese Christian Phalangist militiamen, who were granted entry by the Israeli army (IDF) that was then occupying southern Lebanon and West Beirut. The photograph shown was taken on 19 September 1982 when the Press were allowed in to record the aftermath. The number of casualities is very imprecise, anywhere between 800 and 3,500, but the ruthlessness of the operation is not in doubt, nor the complicity of the Israeli military. The massacre was supposedly in retaliation for the assassination of the recently elected Maronite President of Lebanon, Bachir Gemayel; Palestinians were blamed by the Phalange, though it is now believed more likely that his killing was the work of Lebanese pro-Syrian militants. One of the independent witnesses to the carnage inside Sabra was a nurse, Ellen Siegel, who had gone to Lebanon on a humanitarian mission shortly after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Last Saturday. in an open letter to IDF soldiers published in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, she wrote: ‘For almost 48 hours, from September 16th to 18th, I attempted to save the lives of those who were brought to the hospital. Many has severe wounds from being shot at close range. I cared for hundreds of terrified refugees seeking the safety of the hospital. I tried to comprehend the throat-slitting gesture the women made. I watched from the top floor of the hospital as flares were shot in the air. The flares illuminated areas of the camp; the sound of automatic weapons fire followed each illumination.’ For those who are too young to remember these terrible events and the images they generated in the world’s Press, there is a helpful fact sheet provided on the Institute for Middle East Understanding: http://imeu.net/news/article0023017.shtml
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 12th July, 2012
When Cathy Ashton was appointed High Representative in charge of the EU’s external action service, she declared that she wanted human rights to run like a ‘silver thread’ through the service’s policies. But as Edward McMillan-Scott — Liberal Democrat MEP and a Vice President of the European Parliament — said at a roundtable at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime, human rights have sometimes played second fiddle to trade matters and other practical concerns. He, the Labour MP Michael Connarty (the senior Labour figure on the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee) and Nicholas Beger (from Amnesty International’s Brussels office dealing with the European institutions) were therefore not surprisingly all in favour of the proposed appointment of an EU Special Representative for Human Rights, whose specific job it would be to focus on human rights concerns, wherever they occur in the world, irrespective of other considerations. As Nicholas Beger pointed out, there is currently often a lack of balance in the EU’s stance regarding the transgressions of other states; Belarus rightly comes under criticism for its many shortcomings, but why not Azerbaijan? Oil is a sad but obvious answer, but the putative Special Representative must be above such considerations and look at the world’s nations objectively. I said that I thought the litmus test for the new human rights action plan — of which the Special Representative would be the most high profile part — will come with regard to Israel/Palestine. Michael Connarty rightly touched on Israeli violations in his introductory remarks, but I believe the EU’s credibillity on human rights will only be proven when it does take an objective stand and condemns various elements of the occupation, house demolitions, administrative detention and so forth — though the wide divergence of views among member states relating to Israel could prove to be a problem. By coincidence, while our roundtable was discussing these matters, the House of Commons was getting ready to debate to desirability of appointing the EU Special Representative. Michael Connarty was worried some eurosceptic Tories might use this as an opportunity to further their prejudices, but it is to be hoped that the British parliament will indeed give the initiative its blessing. It would be shameful otherwise.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Amnesty International, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cathy Ashton, Edward McMillan-Scott, Europan Union, Europe House, European Parliament, human rights, Israel, Michael Connarty, Nicholas Beger, Palestine | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th May, 2012
This afternoon I attended the second half of a Global Diplomatic Forum conference on “Two Years of the UK Coalition Government’s Engagement with the World”. Barbara Serra from Al Jazeera vigorously chaired a session on the UK’s Role in the Middle East and North Africa Politics, but it was disappointing that no-one on her panel spoke up forecefully for the rights of the Palestinians; the mantra that ‘both sides must go back to negotiations’ in the Israel/Palestine conflict was intoned by both DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson and Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Middle East, Ian Lucas, though at least the latter seemed to have a better grasp of the injustices inherent in the current situation. Far more stimulating, however, was the following session on the UK’s Approach to International Security Issues, which focussed almost exclusively on Afghanistan. The big surprise (for me) was how vigorously Bernard Jenkin, defence buff and Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex, spoke about the unwinnable situation in which British (and other NATO) forces have landed themselves in there, not least in Helmand province, where the insurgeny, he argued, was actually fuelled by the presence of Western troops. Al Qaeda is finished in Afghanistan, he said, and the insurgency is essentially one of Pashtun revolting against Kabul’s rule, some of which have been successfully wooed by the Talisban, who, he feels, will be back in power not long after the Allies leave. This was hardly official Coalition Government policy on Afghanistan, but I confess it chimes in with what I have increasingly felt — and a sizeable proportion of the British public, so opinion polls tell us.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 19th April, 2012
This morning at the House of Commons I was one of the speakers on a panel organised by the South Asia and Middle East Forum on prospects for the peace process between Israel and Palestine. I confess I tend not to use the term “peace process” myself, as far from leading to peace up till now it has led up a blind alley. Louise Ellmann MP, Vice Chair of Labour Friends if Israel, stressed in her speech that direct negotiations need to get underway again, and that Hamas needs to acknowledge Israel’s permanent right to exist. My remarks focussed on how public opinion in Britain has shifted dramatically over the past half century, from seeing Israel as a noble endeavour and a brave David against the Goliath of the Arab world, to a narrative in which the Palestinians are rightly seen as the victims of extraordinary and ongoing injustice. The prospect of a two-state solution is now in the Last Chance Saloon, I argued; if the situation is not resolved very soon, then there can be no two state solution and a one-state solution will hardly suit Israel’s interests. Settlement building in the Occupied Territories must stop immediately and realistic plans for withdrawal should be implemented; moreover the Judaisation of East Jerusalem must cease, and the city’s role as a holy place for all three Abrahamic faiths underlined and somehow guaranteed by the international community. The world also has to recognise that Israel is violating many aspects of the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Belligerency. The EU can and should be doing more, though it is partly hamstrung because of divisions among member states. But the UK could usefully put much more pressure on the United States which is the only outside power than can bring the Israeli government to heel (not that President Obama is likely to do anything constructive on that front until after the November election). I was pleased that Andy Slaughter MP concurred with most of what I had said and he went into considerably more detail. Alas I had to leave before the Palestinian Ambassador gave his contribution, as I had to teach a class at SOAS. But the Commons Committee Room 10 was full and the message seemed to be getting across.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th February, 2012
The Jerusalem conference which ended in Doha, capital of Qatar, last night produced a Declaration which referenced at least some of the issues raised in the conference’s four working groups: (1) History of Jerusalem, (2) Jerusalem and International Law, (3) Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and (4) the role of civil society organisations in the defence and protection of Jerusalem. I attended the last-mentioned (along with many other Christians and Muslims and a small number of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews), for which I had produced a paper on the role of NGOs in Britiain in raising awareness of issues relating to Jerusalem. A lot of the discussion in that group focussed on house demolitions, the difficulty Arabs have at getting building permits in East Jerusalem and the way Palestinians in the West Bank have had access to Jerusalem hampered or even blocked by both the Security Wall and the lack of necessary papers issued by the Israeli occupatin authorities. Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani financed the conference, as well as opening it, so it is not surprising that he figured prominently in the final Declaration, the English version of which was published by the Gulf Times newspaper today as follows:
The International Conference for the defence of Jerusalem was hosted by Doha, the capital of the State of Qatar, from 26 to 27 February, 2012, in implementation of the resolution no. 503 of the 22nd Arab Summit held in Sirte on 28 March 2010.
The conference was held under the slogan “Support the Steadfastness of Jerusalem”, under the auspices and attendance of HH the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, in the presence of the President of the State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, Arab League Secretary General Dr Nabil al-Arabi, Arab Foreign Ministers, heads of international and regional organisations an bodies, organisations and federations advocating human rights, clerics, as well as intellectuals, legal, political and historical figures who gathered in a historic global mobilisation to express solidarity with the Palestinian people in the city of Jerusalem and their legitimate rights.
The Declaration welcomes the invitation of HH the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani to use Jerusalem’s freedom as a fulcrum of all Palestinians and an incentive for achieving reconciliation and ending division. The Declaration appreciates and supports the proposal of HH the Emir to go to the Security Council to adopt a Resolution for the formation of an international commission to investigate all Israeli actions taken since the 1967 occupation of Jerusalem with a viuw to erase its Arab and Islamic features. It also welcomes HH the Emir’s invitation to prepare a comprehensive strategy for the various sectors and projects that Jerusalem needs, and Qatar’s willingness to participate with all its capacities in accomplishing this strategy and putting it into practice. It emphasizes that Israel breaches International Law to forcefully displace the people of Jerusalem through Judaisation schemes, the denial of justice, obscuring history and heritage, land alienation and property confiscation. It expresses deep concern about the ongoing Israeli works including excavations in Al-Aqsa Mosque and around the Old City, which seriously affect the distinctive character of the city at the religious, cultural, historical and demographic levels, and are contradictory with the decisions of the decisions of UNESCO and UN resolutions related to the city’s territory and the rules of International Law and especially the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property of 1954.
The Declaration calls on international powers who remain silent towards Israeli violations to assume their responsiblity and compel Israel to implement all UN resolutions relevant to Jerusalem. The Doha Declaration calls on the UN and its relevant institutions to shoulder their responsiblities towards Jerusalem and its people; to ensure that they enjoy all their civil, economic and social rights in their city; and to preserve the city’s sacred sites, historical monuments and human heritage.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Al Aqsa Mosque, Arab League, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Doha, Doha Declaration on Jerusalem, Israel, Jerusalem, Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil al-Araby, Palestine, Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Sirte, UNESCO | 3 Comments »