The Guardian | London | June 13, 2006
Honest Tony, peace broker
Rolling out the red carpet for Ehud Olmert is another low in Britain’s and Blair’s history of Middle East meddling.
Yesterday’s joint press conference between the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and Tony Blair represents yet another low point in Britain’s shameful history of intervention in the Middle East.
Rolling out the red carpet for Olmert just four days after the massacre of Palestinian civilians picnicking on a Gaza beach is a stark example of the double standards employed by the British government towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and shows Blair yet again turning a blind eye to war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Israeli government is renowned for cancelling meetings with foreign dignitaries to suit its own purposes, famously refusing to allow Jack Straw’s plane to land in Tel Aviv after some "off-message" comments from the former foreign secretary in 2001. A similar cancellation from our side would have registered at least some condemnation of the Gaza beach killings, not to mention anger at the killings of 140 other Palestinians by Israeli armed forces this year.
Had the situation been reversed, it is inconceivable that the British prime minister and foreign secretary would have met Palestinian leaders. In a brutal display of doublespeak, the British government refuses any communication with the democratically elected Palestinian Authority, on the grounds that it has refused to rule out violence in principle, while happily meeting an Israeli government that practises violence on a daily basis.
Yet rather than rebuke Israel, the UK and its fellow EU member states are actually sitting down today with Israeli representatives in Brussels to seal the continuation of the EU-Israel association agreement. The agreement grants Israel important trading preferences for its exports into the EU, even though these are supposedly conditional on respect for human rights from both sides.
UN officials, developing countries and campaigns groups have long called for the agreement to be suspended in view of Israel’s continued breach of Palestinian human rights, and Amnesty International has thrown its weight behind the calls. Yet the British government has rejected any talk of sanctions out of hand, clinging instead to the mantra of "close engagement" with Israel, though government officials openly admit the policy is having no effect.
The idea that the UK is an honest broker in the Middle East has now lost any credibility. Perhaps the time has come to tell Tony Blair that if he is incapable of doing anything constructive in the Middle East, he should consider doing nothing at all.