» Monday, March 22, 2004

Middle East

Asked for a reaction to the latest developments in Israel this morning, the PMOS said the Prime Minister believed that it was important for everyone to redouble their efforts to try to find a way forward in the Middle East. This morning’s events were clearly a setback. The Foreign Secretary had already commented in Brussels on what had happened. His words spoke for themselves. It went without saying that the Prime Minister also condemned today’s killing.

In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that we had made clear repeatedly our opposition to Israel’s use of targeted killings and assassinations. Equally, we recognised Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism. However, any steps they took must be within international law and should be neither disproportionate nor excessive. Most importantly, both sides should show restraint and to show through words and deeds their commitment to peace and rejection of violence. It was absolutely clear that the two-state vision, which had been articulated through the roadmap, was the goal towards which we should all be focussing our attention. Today’s events obviously took us no further forward on that path.

Asked if he was suggesting that the Coalition’s targeted assassination of Osama bin Laden would also be considered an ‘unlawful killing’, the PMOS said he thought it would be better to deal with the reality in front of us rather than hypothetical scenarios. Asked if the Prime Minister would consider today’s events an act of terrorism, the PMOS said that we condemned what had happened. It was not the first time we had made clear our opposition to targeted assassinations. We would urge both sides to show restraint and do all they could to de-escalate the conflict. It was only through dialogue – and the creation of space free from violence for that dialogue to take place – that we would be able to make the progress that everyone wanted to see.

Asked what impact today’s events would have on British efforts to kick-start the Middle East peace process, the PMOS pointed out that there wasn’t a British plan per se. We had been discussing proposals on Palestinian security measures for some time. That would continue. This would be a plan designed by the Palestinians and would be for them to implement. We would provide whatever advice and support we could. No one was pretending that the events of this morning helped that process along in any way. Questioned as to whether this morning’s events might have been designed to discourage progress, the PMOS said that we understood and recognised Israel’s right to security. Equally, however, it was important that whatever steps were taken were not disproportionate. It would not be particularly helpful for him to provide commentary on today’s events in terms of what they had or had not been designed to do. What was most important was to see restraint on both sides and a de-escalation. Asked why he was not being more forthcoming in condemning the targeted assassination today, the PMOS repeated that Jack Straw had already made a statement condemning this morning’s events. His first words this morning had been to do the same on behalf of the Prime Minister. Questioned as to whether a targeted assassination was compatible with Israel’s right to security, the PMOS said no one was under any illusion that the issues relating to the Middle East were incredibly complex. Obviously they were, otherwise they would have been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction a long time ago. No one was therefore trying to play down or under-estimate the difficulties that existed. However, it was clear that if things were going to move forward, it was necessary to create a space that was free from violence on both sides. We would continue to do all we could to work towards that goal.

Asked if the Prime Minister was planning to speak to President Bush about getting the Middle East peace process back on track following the events this morning, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister and President spoke regularly. There was no specific phonecall relating to what had happened today that he could point to at this stage.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news


  1. Israel \x96 is undemocratic, has weapons of mass destruction, supports and commits acts of terrorism, ignores UN resolutions, commits acts of brutality against its own people etc etc.

    That normally prompts an invasion doesn\x92t it?

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 22 Mar 2004 on 7:10 pm | Link
  2. I thought Israel was a democracy they have elections. Are these unfair?
    And you’ve got it wrong we don’t attack countries with nuclear weapons like North Korea only ones without WMD like Iraq.
    Although it was right to attack Iraq and dealing with N. Korea should be our number one priority.

    Comment by John Murphy — 22 Mar 2004 on 7:42 pm | Link
  3. Why does the PMOS bend over backwards to appease the war criminal Sharon? If any other country behaved the way Israel does there’d be calls for action, boycotts, sanctions.

    But we just carry right on, giving Israel EU trade preferences, buying cluster bombs from their weapons factories, refusing to condemn them at the UN, even letting them play in the UEFA football and sing in the Euroviosion song contest!! Which is strange since you won’t find a geographer on the planet who would say Israel is part of Europe. Appeasement.

    Ariel Sharon’s regime is not part of the civilised world either and we must wonder whether it is wise to allow a rogue state such as Israel to keep it’s 200 nuclear warheads.

    Comment by Confused — 22 Mar 2004 on 8:55 pm | Link
  4. It is interesting to note that few complain about his death – simply the method in which it was accomplished. The man spouted hate and simply because he was in a wheelchair doesn’t lessen his impact on impressionable palestinian youths.

    If any other country behaved in the way Israel does it would be held up as a model of restraint in the face of extreme provocation. Israel has been subject to attacks since its’ inception. Hamas has vowed to destroy the state of Israel – they are at war as they say. Are you suggesting that at a time of war it is not fair to kill the leader of the enemy?

    The PMOS has shown that the British govt is not happy in the methods that Israel used to rid the world of Yassin. But they won’t complain that he is dead.

    Comment by Daniel — 22 Mar 2004 on 9:08 pm | Link
  5. The US certainly argued that killing the head of state of an enemy combatant was a legitimate act of war — they justified their attempts to kill Saddam Hussein during the late Iraq unpleasantness on that basis. I’m no international lawyer, but it seems pretty plausible to me. (It would have been interesting to see whether they would have defended an Iraqi attempt on the life of George W. Bush on the same basis, but that may not be an interesting hypothetical.)

    Whether actions taken by Israel against Hamas are morally equivalent to a war between states is not clear to me. Accepting that rather implies accepting the legitimacy of a Palestinian state, but I understand that even Ariel Sharon now does, so that’s OK.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 22 Mar 2004 on 9:19 pm | Link
  6. Verbal condemnation but nothing suggesting action by the EU (says Foreign Secretary Jack Straw) and only weasel words from Washington. What next?: Israel withdraws its 8,000 or so squatters in Gaza, and Ariel Sharon conveniently finds an excuse pre-emptively to nuke the remaining Palestinians in this, the most densely populated region on Earth.

    The only question is: will this Zionist "final solution" be before the November 2004 US presidential election or in the interregnum before John Kerry takes over from Bush in January 2005?

    Comment by Patrick Haseldine — 22 Mar 2004 on 11:40 pm | Link
  7. To answer John Murphy’s question – I wouldn’t call Israel a democracy because it doesn’t allow a large section of its population to vote (about 3 million Palestinians).

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 23 Mar 2004 on 3:28 pm | Link
  8. As Israel’s population is only about 6.6 million, and 80% Jewish, it’s a little unlikely that there are 3 million Palestinians in Israel. I suspect you are including the occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza strip, and Golan Heights in Israel which would no doubt please Ariel Sharon immensely though would not be sanctioned by the United Nations. There are approx. 20% Palestinians among citizens of Israel itself, who are permitted to vote.

    Comment by David Boothroyd — 23 Mar 2004 on 5:18 pm | Link
  9. If Israel wanted to ‘nuke’ the Palestinian population there would be little point in sending in snatch squads from the army to kill or capture palestinian militants. Rather it would simply carpet bomb Gaza.

    It doesn’t- it uses accurate missiles from helicopters. It put its’ own infantry troops at risk looking for tunnels used for smuggling and houses for bomb making rather than simply airstriking the bomb factories and risking civilian lives.

    Israel makes as much effort as possible to avert civilian deaths in the most populated area on earth. Yet if terrrorist insist on living and working there, how else will Israel be able to stop them killing innocent civilians on Israeli soil?

    Comment by Daniel — 23 Mar 2004 on 6:36 pm | Link
  10. David, while the population of the occupied territories have not been given Israeli citizenship, they have been ruled by Israel for over 30 years without any say in that government or any voting rights. Not exactly a democratic system in my view.

    Even for the non-Jewish population of Israel, the 20% you refer to, democracy is not a reality. In May last year the Israel Democracy Institute presented its study of the \x93quality of Israeli democracy and how well it functions.\x94 The IDI, a non-profit association based in Jerusalem, found widespread undemocratic practices and attitudes. They found that Israel \x93has not yet acquired the characteristics of a substantive democracy…..there is serious political and economic discrimination against the Arab minority; there is much less freedom of religion than in other democracies; and the socioeconomic inequality indicator is among the highest in the sample.\x94

    There is an ongoing debate amongst Jewish, Israeli and other academics about the conflict between claims to be a ‘democracy’ and claims to be a ‘Jewish State’.

    I appreciate that when I was talking about the voting rights of the population it was a simplistic approach, if still true in this case. There is a lot more to being a democracy than just having the right to vote. Citizens in Iraq had the right to vote and Saddam Hussein won the election – I hope you don’t think that pre-war Iraq was a democracy?

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 23 Mar 2004 on 8:19 pm | Link
  11. Come on now people – we should all know by now that Israel is actively supported and financed by successive American administrations because of the hugely rich and powerful Jewish influence at all levels of the government and probably more especially in business. The yanks are never going to "do the right thing" as far as Middle Eastern peace is concerned – apart from invade other countries around the area for no particularly good reason. Even with a change of administration, the American Jewish lobby is too powerful for any government to ignore – hence they have to continue pretending to not notice what goes on in Israel. And in this country, we should all know by now that Tony isn’t going to do anything to upset his mate George, so of course he isn’t going to say or do very much. Sadly, the only options for a lasting peace in the middle east involve the US swallowing it’s pride and stopping it’s backing of Israel. Of course, that isn’t going to happen.

    The whole question of who is right and wrong between Israel and Palestine is a question which I don’t think will ever be solved, at least not in our lifetime. Personally I think the solutions are simple, but simple solutions are often the most difficult to implement – not least because world leaders rarely dream up simple, logical solutions. In my own lifetime I have seen enough from both sides to suggest they are equally as bad as each other; however, in a lot of respects I would have to condemn Israel as being exactly the kind of rogue state which the two-faced yanks are supposedly seeking to eradicate. We all know about the suicide bombers – one of the few effective weapons left in the Palestinian arsenal. What we don’t hear about in quite such gory detail are the snatch squads, assassinations and outright massacres which the Israelis have carried out over the years. Nope, they ain’t no saints and never will be – just another example of the massive hypocricy which is international relations today. I would say the world is going to hell in a hand cart, but personally I really do believe that it’s already too late.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 23 Mar 2004 on 9:18 pm | Link
  12. Nonsense. I thought that sort of conspiracy theory died out fifty years ago. The west supports Israel because it’s a liberal democracy — perhaps a flawed democracy, but a democracy nonetheless — engaged in a violent struggle against enemies who are neither liberal nor democratic and would happily destroy Israel if they were able to do so.

    There are many valid criticisms to be made of the Israeli government — personally I find much of the Sharon government’s policy extremely distasteful, and I suspect a lot of it is contrary to Israel’s interests — but to complain about a "Jewish lobby" which is directing US policy is paranoid antisemitic rubbish.

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 23 Mar 2004 on 9:54 pm | Link
  13. The British press and government do seem to spend an inordinate and disproportionate amount of time fretting about Israel/Palestine when there are just as many if not worse conflicts going on in Africa and other parts of the World.

    It’s a never ending cycle and the threats and counter threats from Hamas and Israel have all been heard before numerous times. Soon there will be more innocent civilians killed on both sides but the numbers are tiny compared to what is going on in Africa.

    Comment by DEGREEK — 23 Mar 2004 on 10:39 pm | Link
  14. I disagree entirely, Chris – and I don’t think for one minute it’s conspiracy theory. However, you mistook what I said slightly – I didn’t say the Jewish lobby is "directing" US foreign policy; it is however a very powerful lobby (just look at how many banks and financial institutions are originally Jewish in origin, as well as the diamond trade for the past 100 years or so) which can’t be ignored, in the same way that the Hispanic lobby is also very powerful, not in terms of hard cash but in terms of sheer numbers. One doesn’t have to look very hard at US administrations past and present to see how many people of Jewish descent seem to rise to eminence in US politics – and PLEASE don’t tell me it is anti-Semitic to say that. It is a commonly-held belief that the American industrial machine has a big influence on US policy; why should it be so far-fetched that a relatively small number of rich influential Jewish families should also have a say in matters relating to the Middle-East?

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 23 Mar 2004 on 10:59 pm | Link
  15. But by the same argument you’d expect an analogous "Arab lobby" to exert a similar effect — the American Arab population isn’t that much smaller than the American Jewish population. Yet nobody talks about an "Arab lobby" exerting an influence over US policy. Only the "Jewish lobby" has this special distinction. Odd that, isn’t it?

    Comment by Chris Lightfoot — 23 Mar 2004 on 11:04 pm | Link
  16. Not odd when one considers the range of business and industries owned or run by Jews. This is of course not a criticism of Jews – they, like a lot of Indians and Pakistanis in this country seem to demonstrate a work ethic second to none in my experience. They work to succeed, and by and large they DO succeed. But that’s besides the point. Look at how many Jews were displaced throughout Eastern and Central Europe early last century, in a way that probably no other people has been. Naturally a lot of these settled in the US; and again, naturally they succeeded at what they did. It doesn’t take a great deal of investigation to look at how many of the big media, IT and telecom companies in the US are run or owned by Jews, or how many of the banks, financial institutions as well as trade in precious metals and stones. All big revenue generating industries. But the fact that such large numbers of Jews were displaced last century would account for the Jewish lobby being more powerful than the Arab lobby (maybe lobby is the wrong word; by lobby I mean large group of people all with certain demands of their political leaders) – I can’t think of an occasion in recent history when large numbers of Arabs were displaced and moved westwards. And don’t forget, it isn’t about sheer numbers but the relative amount of wealth controlled.

    Comment by PapaLazzzaru — 23 Mar 2004 on 11:14 pm | Link
  17. To put in my twopence worth – I think that there is a strong Jewish lobby in the US. I don’t think it directs American policy abroad. However, like any socio-political group (think our trade unions) it will have its’ influence and will argue its’ point.

    And the view in the US is that Israel has fought its’ corner against overwhelming odds for 50 years. If the US didn’t back Israel, it would have been destroyed by the UN and its’ Arab majority.

    There is an Arab lobby in the US, and it is supported by a huge amount of cash from Arab countries. Yet the simple matter is that Western countries know that Israel is doing its’ best to remain a democracy. The report refered to above, I understand, considered that the closure of much of Israel over the sabbath was a restriction on people’s right to freedom of religon. However, it seems daft to compare the crackdown on what religon can be practised (such as in China) with closing the bagel bakery on a Saturday – thus preventing an atheist a hot bagel for breakfast.

    There will always be a degree of hostility and distrust within Israeli society while the Palestinian suicide bombers continue. At least Israeli jews do not go around massacring Israeli arabs (Rwanda, Kosovo). It is not perfect and discrimination should be removed – but please consider the context and strength of critiscm. Israel is trying its best to be a strong democracy without allowing its’ society (both jew and muslim – the suicide bomb does not distinguish) to be massacred.

    Comment by Daniel — 24 Mar 2004 on 10:25 am | Link
  18. Just a quick comment to add to the debate between Chris and Papa.

    One of the biggest influences on US foreign policy with regards to Israel actually comes from the Christian right. They believe that the state of Israel is crucial to the prophecies about the ‘second coming’ and so believe that they should support Israel against the Arabs. The Christian right are far bigger and more powerful than either the Jewish or Arab ‘lobbies’ and the fact that the President is straight from the bible belt means that their views tend to get a high priority in US political thinking.

    Comment by Uncarved Block — 24 Mar 2004 on 1:30 pm | Link
  19. This might not be worth tuppence, but here it comes anyways.

    Worth noting in 1989 (I think) a UN resolution was tabled proposing international co-operation against terrorism. It included specifics of what constituted terrorism, what action could be taken against it, and guidelines for international law condemning and dealing with support for terrorists by govenments.

    It was vetoed, by the US and Israel. (GB may have abstained)

    One of the main reasons as given by commentors at the time was the fact that much of Israel’s action against people in its own actually fell under the guidelines as de facto terrorism.

    I am not trying to make any point about who is at faults for the conflict here, just saying what happened (as I remember).

    Comment by Lodjer — 24 Mar 2004 on 1:56 pm | Link
  20. Fair point Lodjer.

    Comment by Daniel — 25 Mar 2004 on 12:40 am | Link

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