» Monday, December 18, 2006

Middle East

Asked for further information about the initiative that the Prime Minister was looking into with other world leaders, and also, about the announcement the US had made about giving money to President Abbas, which they had been quite blatant about, and would we be equally blatant, the PMOS said that "blatant" was a loaded way of describing what was a much more sophisticated analysis by the Prime Minister. The PMOS said that we had, and would continue, to support Palestine with £30 million which at the moment, we channelled that money through a mechanism, because of our concern about how the money would be spent if it went through the Palestinian government, as we were worried that it might be misspent by Hamas. However, what we recognised was that it would be better if we gave money whilst working with the Palestinians. Therefore, if it was possible to look again and see if there were ways in which the two objectives could be met. In other words, that money could be given, and it was not the amount of money that was the issue, but rather, the manner in which it was spent in order that it was guaranteed to go into things that would help Palestinians, for example, hospitals and education. The PMOS said that it was precisely because it was an international mechanism that we had to talk to our international partners about whether they agreed that there might be a different way of doing this. That was what we would do. The issue was precisely the one identified by the Prime Minister, which wasn’t us excluding people, but rather, people who were excluding themselves by failing to recognise the reality. That reality was as President Abbas had put it, Israel and Palestine needed each other if there was to be a solution to this problem.

Asked if we were sending the money directly to President Abbas’ office, the PMOS said that we had to work out the best way to work with the Palestinians, whilst at the same time, doing so with the knowledge that the money would be spent in the way in which it was intended, i.e. to benefit directly the Palestinian people, rather than being misused to support extremism.

Asked further about how the initiative would work, and what was the capacity about President Abbas’ office, the PMOS said that we had to recognise that following Saturday’s landmark speech, we were in a different position, and therefore, those kinds of issues were ones that were legitimate to raise, but people were assuming that nothing would change. We should therefore see what happened, but it was part of the on-going discussion. At the moment, investors were afraid and unwilling to invest in Palestine because of the conflict. The PMOS asked if we could get to a situation where people could invest from other countries, but equally important, from the private sector, with confidence and asked people to look at what had happened elsewhere in the Middle East. The economy there had been turned around, partly because, people could be sure that their investment would see a return in terms of political progress, but also in terms of economics, and partly because people had seen the change in terms of the position of women and so on. Could we see that replicated in areas like Palestine? The PMOS said that there was no reason why not, but people would only do so if they could be sure that the mechanisms were there. The questions were legitimately part of the ongoing discussion.

Asked if the Prime Minister agrees with Chatham House when they had said that the intervention in Iraq had been a "grave mistake" and that it had led to an increased threat to the UK, the PMOS replied that in terms of the international threat level, people should go back and look at the outrages and atrocities that pre-dated Iraq, or go to the corner of Treasury Green and look at the memorial dedicated to the Bali bomb victims which occurred before Iraq. The PMOS said that people should also look at the attacks elsewhere in the world before 9/11. Terror threats did not begin with Iraq; it was there before Iraq, and it was there before 9/11. People should look at the response of the Government to the international situation today, and what we were doing not only in terms of security, but also in terms of politics, for example, what the Prime Minister was doing in the Middle East, or what he had done with the G8 Presidency which took the international debate on Africa and climate to a different place. The PMOS said that that was part of a broad ranging approach which addressed the issues as a whole, rather than trying to find an excuse for terrorism located in one particular subject.

Asked if the Prime Minister was frustrated that other countries were not coming through regarding the Palestinian situation, the PMOS replied that this was a difficult situation, and we should be honest about that. This was a situation where there was not only the conflict between Israel and Palestine, but also, a conflict within Palestine itself. Therefore, people had been hanging back for the reasons spelt out. What the Prime Minister was saying was that President Abbas had shown leadership, a way forward, and was beginning to develop the ways of trying to move the situation forward institutionally, as well as in terms of leadership. Therefore, it was time for the international community to step forward, and to demonstrate its real support for the moderate Governments in the region. That was partly why this trip had not just been to Israel and Palestine, but had also involved taking in other countries, and the Prime Minister would visit other moderate Muslim countries during this trip. The PMOS said that now was the time to put our money where our mouths were and support those who were trying to make moderate Muslim countries work.

Asked further about security plans, the PMOS said that security was clearly an issue and how security was supported was also clearly an issue. What was equally wrong was to betray our help in terms of forming security, it had to be a mixture of security and making progress that was actually seen to be of practical help to Palestinians. The PMOS said that for many Palestinians, security was an issue, but so too was health, or education. The reality was that we had to work through with our international partners before we could talk in more detail about these matters. The questions were all valid ones, and the important thing was that they had been discussed today in a way that they had not been discussed last week.

Asked further about the money, the PMOS said that the answer to all the questions was to provide mechanisms which reassured people that the money would go to where it should go. The PMOS said that again, he could not get ahead of any discussions with any of the partners involved in this. We had to let the process go at the pace it would go at.

Asked about the possibility of changing the constitution of the Palestinian government, the PMOS replied that as President Abbas had said very effectively that there was only one person who was elected as President of the Palestinian Authority, and that was him. The choice that the Palestinians faced was what was actually in the true interests of Palestine? Was it another cycle of conflict, or was it actual engagement with the international community and with Israel? President Abbas had said that it was engagement.

Asked, as President Abbas’s speech had been widely welcomed as a way forward, who was the Prime Minister referring to as not moving forward, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister was asking that the international community step up a gear in terms of its support. We have to ask ourselves if the issues about being held back from working with Palestinians are resolvable in a different way given the change in direction that President Abbas has signalled. That is what the Prime Minister meant. It is time to step up within the international community and look again to see whether there would be a different way forward given the change of direction that President Abbas has signalled.

Asked when the Prime Minister would set out his thoughts on the wider Middle East situation and the choice that the wider Middle East has to make, the PMOS said that in one sense the whole trip has been about that choice; as the Prime Minister said to the troops yesterday, if you look at Turkey there is a choice there between extremism and moderation, if you look at Egypt it is the same, if you look here it is the same. If you look at the United Arab Emirates (UAE), what you see there is a country making the choice, in terms of an open economy. British investment in UAE is worth millions of pounds, as our 9th largest trading partner they are a developing economy. They are also reforming politically, the role of women is changing for the better, tentative steps in terms of democracy, and being taken. The PMOS went on to say that come Wednesday the Prime Minister would make some remarks that would address the wider issues of choice facing the Middle East region as a whole.

Asked what the Prime Minister had meant by new initiatives when he spoke in Ramallah, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had not be talking in any way about changing the principles of the Quartet or indeed the Road Map. What the Prime Minister was talking about was a way of supporting the Palestinians in a different way in which we work with the Palestinians and creating circumstances in which the Palestinians and the Israelis can engage with each other.

Asked if the international community were failing in their role to talk to each other on this issue, the PMOS said that the international community was talking to each other, it is talking on all sorts of different levels; the EU Council on Friday discussed the issue for some significant period of time.

Asked if the Prime Minister was the lead man within the international community on the issue, the PMOS said that different people have different roles and the best thing is that people get on in whatever way they can. Asked to clarify if the Prime Minister had said he’d be back or had come back, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had said I have come back, he did not say, ‘I’ll be back’.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news


  1. If anyone had any lingering doubts that Blair’s overtures in the Middle East are a bad joke, read this. This(Guantanamo)is what Blair referred to as ‘an anomaly’:


    Comment by Laforgue — 18 Dec 2006 on 10:10 pm | Link
  2. If anyone had any lingering doubts that Blair’s overtures in the Middle East are a bad joke, read this. This(Guantanamo)is what Blair referred to as ‘an anomaly’:


    Comment by Laforgue — 18 Dec 2006 on 10:18 pm | Link
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    Comment by Thomas J. — 5 Feb 2007 on 9:17 pm | Link

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