Tag Archives: middle east

Observations of an ex pat: The Middle East explained

The Cold War-like conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is simmering quite nicely—and, like most Middle East problems, threatening to boil over. The roots, the causes, the issues and the problems are all part of that complex Middle East tapestry which closely resembles Churchill’s riddle wrapped in an enigma and perpetually shrouded in the shifting sands of Arabia.

But I will attempt to provide a guide on today’s state of play.

The Sunnis hate the Shias.

The Shias hate the Sunnis

The problem is a 1,382-year-old dispute over the religious line of succession

Iran is the dominant Shia power

Saudi Arabia is the dominant Sunni power.

Almost all the other countries line up behind either Iran or Saudi Arabia, although some try to take a middle route. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult as tensions rise.

The latest problems started with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and his replacement by a Shi-ite theocracy.

Another exacerbating factor was the demise of Iraq’s secular—but still Sunni– leader Saddam Hussein who has been replaced by a pro-Iranian Shia leadership in Iraq.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 8 Comments

The Independent View: Jewish opposition to Israeli policies

Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2002, there has been significant Jewish opposition in the UK, Western Europe and the United States to Israel’s occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, and to the repressive measures Israel takes against Palestinian resistance. Jews for Justice for Palestinians, now with nearly 2,000 signatories, is by far the biggest Jewish peace group in the UK or Europe. JJP is a founder member of European Jews for a Just Peace, the federation of 13 peace groups in 10 European countries.

JJP’s core beliefs can be summarised as:

Palestinians have the right to their own state in the areas occupied by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, no less than Israel has the right to a secure existence within the 6 June 1967 borders. Israel must negotiate in good faith to withdraw to the 1967 borders, subject to an agreed, equitable land swap to accommodate the built-up areas in some of the settlements.

Violence against civilians is unacceptable, no matter who commits it.

Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for the 750,000 Palestinians who were driven out or fled in 1947/49, and who, with their children and grandchildren, make up today’s Palestinian refugees. Israel must negotiate a fair and practical resolution of the issue.

Our beliefs are based on the humanitarian values of Judaism, universal values of human rights and international law. As disquiet about Israel’s policies has grown, our beliefs have become common and are now shared by many in the community. All this was established by the meticulous City University survey “Attitudes of British Jews Towards Israel”, published in 2015.

The survey shows that Israel plays an important part in the identity of most Jews, but also that, far from there being widespread support for Israel’s policies among Jews, there is actually a wide diversity of attitudes, as one would expect to find in society generally. Depending on the question asked, responses varied from large majorities opposed to Israeli policies to significant minorities opposed.

Some examples will suffice to show the diversity: 

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Also tagged and | 12 Comments

Disaster of Iraq is just one chapter of a flawed British Middle East Adventure

As we reflect on the Chilcot report, it is also worth reminding ourselves that British Foreign Policy in the Middle East has been flawed and at times disastrous for the last 100 years.  Too often it has been based on colonial ambition or narrow economic self-interest or just surrendering to powerful lobbies – often ignoring the expertise of well-informed diplomats and historians whose advice would have helped to avoid and repeat mistakes.

Until shortly before World War 1 the Levant was run by the armies of occupation of the Ottoman Empire.  While this colonial Ottoman governance was exploitative and far from benign, it must be admitted that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace and harmony, trading together, socialising and even inter-marrying.  The arrival of the French and British colonial powers was at first welcomed by most Arabs, who anticipated a less grasping and more civilised governance and some hope of eventual self-rule.  Fairly soon the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 led to a carving up of the region into French and British spheres of influence which showed little respect for natural communities and ethnic or religious difference.  Promises about self-governance were repeatedly broken or only half-implemented. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised the creation of a Jewish national home within Palestine was greeted with dismay by Palestinian Arabs, so the British government pledged that the rights of Palestinians must be protected in the implementation of this plan – a promise that was totally forgotten when the time came.

In the aftermath of World War 2, and, under pressure from Zionist terrorist gangs, a virtually bankrupt British Government could not escape quickly enough; it abandoned the Palestinians to their fate when the UN approved the partition of the country.  The resulting ethnic cleansing and subsequent Israeli –Arab wars have left the festering sore of Israel as the occupying power in Palestinian majority areas in defiance of international law and UN resolutions.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 5 Comments

Lib Dems and the Middle-East: are we prepared to address the obvious?

I am a “Newbie-Oldbie” and joined the Party after the 2015 elections. With a lifelong interest in international relations and career with much overseas work, I particularly wanted to find out where the Party stood on Middle Eastern affairs.

I decided to attend the York conference which had interesting fringe meetings dealing with both Israel/Palestine and Syria. What really struck was the contrast between the two cases. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a relatively straightforward clash between a settler-colonial movement and indigenous people, but that of Syria is really complicated, with many moving parts­:

Posted in Op-eds | 41 Comments

Tim Farron says UK Government should challenge Saudis over executions and human rights

Tim Farron went on Sky News yesterday to describe the execution of 47 people in Saudi Arabia as both “morally wrong and politically foolish” and to criticise the UK Government for being too soft on the Saudis and not calling them out for their appalling human rights record.

I remember being very proud when one of the first big things Vince Cable did as acting leader back in 2007 was to boycott the state visit of the Saudi King. I was not so chuffed last year when there was a chorus of silence from Liberal Democrats when flags were flown at half mast following the death of the Saudi King.

So, it’s good to see Tim Farron slamming the Saudis for their actions and the UK Government for being too soft on them. I’m also interested that he made the point that the relationships between the two governments benefit the most powerful people in both countries but don’t do much for those who aren’t well off. Watch the whole thing here.

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UN tells Israel to stop taking Palestinian resources

In a little reported step on Tuesday 22 December, the United Nations General Assembly, citing the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted a resolution demanding Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources under Israeli occupation and the UK actually voted in favour!

The Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted in 1949 following the Second World War and the forced migrations of many peoples that occurred during and immediately after it.    Article 49 of that 4th Geneva Convention clearly states: ““The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”   Israel ratified this Convention in 1951. In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted a report from the Secretary-General and a Commission of Experts which concluded that the Geneva Conventions had passed into the body of customary international law, thus making them binding even on non-signatories to the Conventions whenever they engage in armed conflicts. 

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged and | 29 Comments

Opinion: It’s time to recognise Palestine as a state

Israelis go to the polls on March 17 and no doubt the US and UK governments and most Lib Dems are hoping for a Netanyahu defeat and a more “liberal” government.  Opinion polls however suggest the opposite.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in article on 1 February, suggested that Netanyahu’s re-election would be the better outcome, as then the rest of the world would see the need to keep up the pressure on Israel.  The article suggested that it could be worse if a government of the centre left was elected as this would reassure the rest of the world that peace negotiations would be renewed, while nothing would actually happen. So, whatever the outcome of the election, there is a need for EU countries to keep up the pressure on the Israelis to stop their illegal activities in the Occupied Territories, lift the cruel siege of Gaza, and settle fairly with the Palestinians.

I would suggest that now is the time, well before the general election,  for the Party to commit itself to immediate British recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, as Sweden did last October, and to encourage other members of the EU to do the same. Sweden acted alone, France is getting close to doing so and others would undoubtedly follow the United Kingdom.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 21 Comments
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    Peter Martin, regarding the issue of capital expenditure the paper referenced above outlines Keynes reasoning. "Keynes was opposed to deficit spending in the sense of...
  • User AvatarTeresa Wilson 24th Feb - 2:43pm
    I agree with much in this article but I have a problem with the conclusion that "if it all ends in tears, it will be...
  • User AvatarDavid Warren 24th Feb - 2:19pm
    What a healthy debate. Thanks for all the comments everyone.
  • User AvatarPeter Hirst 24th Feb - 1:55pm
    Our policies in the manifesto need to be targeted at all the seats where we were second as it these that provide the immediate springboard...
  • User AvatarPeter Hirst 24th Feb - 1:49pm
    It is essential in my view that there is input into the manifesto process of a wider variety of members so that the various parts...
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    1. A major elephant in the room will be the status of European citizens who want to come and live in the United Kingdom post-Brexit....