Tuesday, May 04, 2010

To and how to engage?

There were two points that I found interesting about the discussion following Rosemary Hollis’s presentation.

The first came from a Palestinian who arrived late and was critical about Britain’s role (or rather non-role) in the Middle East and on the peace process. Actually it was rather hard to follow, if not contradictory. I think I can summarise his points as follows:

1. Britain has historical responsibility for the mess that we’re currently in (the mandate, etc).
2. Britain has present day responsibility for the mess that we’re currently in (association with Washington, Iraq, etc).
3. We’re disappointed that the Middle East doesn’t figure more prominently in British policymakers’ minds (other than as an extension of broadly global concerns).
4. Britain should play a more ‘active’ role in the Middle East – although it wasn’t clear what he meant by ‘active’.

Given Britain’s past performance in the Middle East, why on earth would anyone want the British to become more involved?!

The second came from a Palestinian woman who Rosemary appeared to know. She wanted to know what scope there was for domestic pressure on British policymaking regarding the Middle East. Hollis responded there was very little (e.g. the anti-Iraq war march made little impact). She also noted that there is currently a debate going on in Britain about sanctions against Iraq, but contrary to what many Palestinians may think, this will probably have less impact on government thinking than how British Muslims feel.

In other words, notions of international law and boycotts will have less effect than that of social stability in determining policy. This is to be expected, although I am constantly amazed at the emphasis placed by commentators here on international law and the legal obligations that Israel must uphold in relation to the West Bank and Gaza rather than grappling with the social and political realities of why they won’t – or how those might be exploited to encourage their implementation.

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