Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 3 May 2004


It was a double blow last week for US-UK and Israeli policies in the Middle East.  Firstly, 52 former senior British Ambassadors and officials publicly attacked Tony Blair for supporting George Bush’s Iraq and Israel-Palestine policies which are  “doomed to failure.”  Then the United Nations’ special envoy to Iraq called Israel the “great poison” in the Middee East, and criticized the US for supporting it. 


The tide of public opinion on the Iraq war and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict took a dramatic turn last week when senior members of the British and United Nations establishment spoke up against the United States-United Kingdom approach.

In Britain, 52 former senior diplomats wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister Tony Blair attacking his Iraq and Middle East policies.

And the United Nations envoy to Iraq, who is tasked with establishing a new transitional Iraqi government by June, personally attacked recent Israeli policies that are backed by the United States. 

These events show that establishment figures are now so outraged by what is happening that they are willing to stick their necks out and join the chorus of public protests against the US-UK approach to Iraq on one hand and what appears to be the Israeli-US-UK new strategy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the other hand.

The letter by the 52 former diplomats was unprecendented.  It was the first time so many senior Ambassadors and foreign-policy officials had gone public to denounce the policies of the ruling government.

It caused quite a sensation, with the British papers splashing the news and most of them supporting the diplomats in their editorials.

The letter was signed by former British ambassadors, governors and senior international officials.  They include Sir Graham Boyce (ambassador to Egypt 1999-2001); Sir Terence Clark (ambassador to Iraq 1985-89); Francis Cornish (ambassador to Israel 1998-2001); Sir James Craig (ambassador to Saudi Arabia 1979-84); Ivor Lucas (ambassador to Syria 1982-84); Richard Muir (ambassador to Kuwait 1999-2002); Sir Crispin Tickell (British permanent representative to the UN 1987-90); and Sir Harold (Hooky) Walker (ambassador to Iraq 1990-91).

The diplomats said they had watched with deepening concern the policies which Blair has followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close cooperation with the US. 

They decided to make their anxieties public following the recent press conference in Washington at which Blair and US President George Bush restated these policies. They call for a fundamental reassessment of the policies.

The diplomats said the decision by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a “road map” for the settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict raised hopes that the major powers would at last try to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the west and the Islamic and Arab worlds.

But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the road map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.

Said the letter:  “Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood.”

This part of the letter apparently refers to the Sharon plan to abandon a joint settlement with the Palestinians and instead launch a unilateral programme to pull Israeli settlements out of Gaza but retain most settlements in the West Bank, and maintain the wall built by the Israelis which would take away significant chunks of land from the Palestinians.  Other issues such as the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their lands in Israel and the status of Jerusalem are not covered.  The Sharon plan seems to have been approved by the US.

Moreover, Sharon also announced he is no longer bound by a promise to Bush not to assassinate Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, implying that Israel may kill him. 

In a direct attack on Blair, the British diplomats say “this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land...

“This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq.”

The diplomats then strongly criticize the conduct of the war in Iraq and the false British portrayal of the Iraqi resistence.  It is clear there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement, they said, adding:

“All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case.

“To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be

created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America.

“The military actions of the coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them.

“It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders. Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition.

“The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total 10-15,000 (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Falluja alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children.

“Phrases such as “We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice,” apparently referring only to those who have died on the coalition side, are not well judged to moderate the passions these killings arouse.”

The letter then criticizes Blair for continuing to go along with the US policies and in effect asks him to abandon the partnership if the UK cannot influence Bush.

It says:  “We share your view that the British government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally.

“We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure.”

Such a strongly worded open letter from such a galaxy of foreign-office stars has dealt a blow to Blair and will help sway UK and world public opinion against the US-UK occupation of Iraq and Middle East policy.

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s special advisor and envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, last week described Israel as “the great poison” in the Middle East.

Brahimi is tasked with shaping a transitional government to take power from the US-led coalition forces on 30 June, and is thus is a powerful figure in the Iraq situation.

Real power will still reside with the US after 30 June, as the Iraqi government will have only limited powers;  it may not even be able to formulate laws, and security will still be in US hands.

Brahimi, who is a former Foreign Minister of Algeria, last week briefed the UN Security Council on his plans for the transition of this limited power to Iraqis.

But even more newsworthy was his interview, a few days earlier, carried by a Paris radio station criticizing Israel’s policy and U.S. support for it.

Brahimi said his effort to help establish an interim government in Iraq is being made more difficult by Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

He said:  “There’s a lot of hatred because the very violent and repressive security policy of the Israeli government, as well as this determination to occupy more and more Palestinian territory, does not make matters easier.

“There is no doubt that the great poison in the region is this Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians, as well as the  perception of all of the population in the region and beyond of the injustice  of this policy and the equally unjust support...of the United States for this  policy.”

Israel’s deputy ambassador to the UN  said he was “very disturbed” by Brahimi’s statement which puts the objectivity of top UN officials in question.

Pressed whether the UN agreed with Brahimi’s views, the UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said:  “It’s a politically complex issue. Mr. Brahimi was expressing his personal views...The secretary general’s views, as expressed over the last seven years, do not contain the word ‘poison.”’

But a few days later, Brahimi in an interview on the US TV station ABC continued his criticisms.

He said:  “I think that there is unanimity in the Arab World, and indeed in much of the rest of the world, that the Israeli policy is wrong, that Israeli policy is brutal, repressive and that they are not interested in peace no matter what you seem to believe in America.

“What I hear is that these Americans who are occupying us are the Americans who are giving this blanket support to Israel to do whatever they like. So how can we believe that the Americans want anything good for us?” he said.

The outspoken comments by members of the UK and UN establishment add another layer to the criticisms made by countries around the world, and significantly contribute to turning the tide of public opinion.

The Non Aligned Movement, led by Malaysia, will take an initiative by sending a small delegation of political leaders to meet with various world leaders, to make the case for the Palestinians against the latest Sharon plan.

Hopefully the statements by the UK diplomats and the UN envoy will make the NAM task a little bit easier.