It has been a busy and eventful week in the world of British foreign policy.
From the deadly hostage situation in Algeria to the support of the French intervention in Mali to the build-up to and then cancelling of the speech from the Prime Minister that was to confirm a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Lost, somewhat, in all of this was the report that the British and French were in the process of spearheading a new Middle East peace planWith the Israeli elections two days away, where a coalition of the right, including the extreme Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party is expected to be a part of, under the continued premiership of Binyamin Netanyahu on course to win a majority, it will be interesting to see if any notice will even be taken of any international peace-plan presented to the Israelis. Even if Netanyahu was convinced that they would have to embark on any new European/American based plan, even if just to relieve some of the pressure on Israel, he would surely face a revolt from those within his party and coalition. A party which includes the likes of Moshe Feiglin who recently related his nuanced views on “Arabs”.
“You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic,” Feiglin told the New York Times recently. “You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers….The Arab destroys everything he touches.”
The likelihood that Netanyahu could carry any plan through his cabinet demanding even the smallest compromise on settlement building in the West Bank/East Jerusalem, right of return of Palestinian refugees, and the division of Jerusalem for both peoples, seems extremely low. The urgency being expressed by the British and greater international community seems all a bit too little too late in regards to a just and stable peace between the two peoples which sees the fostering of a viable Palestinian state living in peace side by side a secure Israel. I hope I and many other more expert commentators are wrong.
The carnage in Syria has continued unabated in the last week. The attack on the University of Aleppo struck a deep chord in me as I sat at my desk in my home university where I work. Students were sitting their exams, as are many in Britain and across the world, when the university was struck. The university was also believed to be housing civilians fleeing the fighting. Over 80 were killed, and more than 150 wounded. The means and perpetrators of this massacre remain murky, with both sides propaganda wings accusing each other. What it does highlight though, is that nowhere is safe within the conflict zones of Syria. Neither side is even trying to abide by the Geneva Convention.
Today, Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Muallem, called for talks with the “nationalistic opposition”. Despite these calls Mr Mullem added,
“No one should dare discuss the position of the president… this is unacceptable,” said Mr Muallem.
The rebels have already dismissed any talks that include the continuation of Assad as President, but should they? Some are predicting that the Assad regime will survive at least in to 2014, how many more will be dead at the year end? 100,000, 200,000? Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague, instead of warning that the UK could start arming Syrian rebles
should be calling for dialogue, a viable peace plan from the Arab League, anything that could stop the nightmere that the Syrian people are having to endure. Unfortunately, geo-political aims trump all. With Assad and his regime gone Iran would be even more isolated in
their position in opposition to Israel and the West in the Middle East.
Nothing in the Middle East happens in isolation.
By Jonathan Woodrow Martin