'Mideast policy hurts UK's good name'

Oxfam says Blair's positions on region are one-sided in Israel's favor.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
A British charity has said that its country's policy on Israel and the Palestinians is among the errors in foreign policy that has damaged the country's reputation in the world and undermined its status as "an international force for good." In a report published on Wednesday, Oxfam, a British charity with a mandate to overcome poverty and suffering in the world, has questioned their country's foreign policy, asking if the UK can do more to protect civilians around the world. While the report focuses on the UK's role in Iraq and impact or policy around the world, saying the lesson is that "the wrong policy can make a bad situation worse," Oxfam attacks the British government for failing to pressure Israel for an immediate cease-fire in the Lebanon war last year. The charity uses an account of a Lebanese farmer to make its point. "Around the world, Oxfam sees the impact of British foreign policy on the people with whom it works. In Lebanon in 2006, for example, Abdullah Bakin, an olive farmer in the village of Siddiquine, was typical in blaming the UK, not only Israel and the US, for the destruction wrought on his farm, because the British government had failed to press Israel for an immediate cease-fire." In the report, the olive farmer said: "I've lost all my olive trees…30 percent shelled, 40% burned…the rest you can't get near because of the [unexploded] bombs… but I'm aware that the British people do not think the same as Tony Blair and the British government." It also says that Britain's position often looks "one-sided." "In August 2006, during the Lebanon crisis, the prime minister described an 'arc of extremism' of insurgents and pariah governments, and called for an opposing 'alliance of moderation' including the USA, the UK and Israel. To most people around the world, in the light of attacks on civilians by some of the 'moderates' as well as 'extremists,' the UK's position looked one-sided," the report says. A Foreign Office spokesman said in response: "On the Lebanon crisis last year, our position was simply that just calling for a cease-fire would not create one and would certainly not create the conditions on the ground for a sustainable cease-fire. Our work during the Rome summit and in the UNSC helped to achieve just that, international consensus and conditions on the ground that led to UNSCR 1701 - a cease-fire that continues to be upheld." The report warns that British foreign policy could become more cautious after the "debacle" in Iraq at the expense of other crises. "For four years, foreign-policy discussions have been dominated by the debacle in Iraq. That is understandable - but dangerous. The danger is that, after Iraq, UK foreign policy could lurch to a much more cautious approach, turning away from trying to solve the world's worst crises, with potentially catastrophic consequences for people in them. And by refusing to acknowledge some of the failings and inconsistencies of recent years, the UK could undermine many of the more positive steps it has taken." While it states that the government has been right to pursue an active foreign policy and doesn't discount the deployment of British troops, such as was done in Sierra Leone, Oxfam says it must be done "only occasionally." It says the government must seek "multilateral solutions" to the world's conflicts and find ways to protect civilians caught up in them. Britain must also help to unite UN members, the report suggests: "It must press the UN not only to be more effective, but also to be more representative of the changing world. The UK must pursue a new multilateralism that is both active and 'listening,' working with other governments to galvanize the rest of the international community to protect civilians. "However more often it will require Britain to criticize its friends when they commit war crimes and human-rights abuses," it says, and Israel is used as an example. "In Lebanon, and in too many other crises to date, it has failed to do that," says the report. The report states that as many as three-quarters of a million people have died in just three of the world's 35 conflicts - Darfur, Iraq and the Congo - and attacks the UK for "failing to respond effectively" to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed within 100 days, and the genocide in Bosnia in the same decade. "The UK government not only sat on its hands, but actively worked to block the UN Security Council intervening to stop the genocide in Rwanda. It was one of the first to tell the UN to withdraw peacekeepers, rather than act to stop the killing. In part, this was because it was afraid of repeating the Western intervention in Somalia, which ended in disaster and humiliation in 1993. "One million people died in the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, to which the previous UK government failed to respond effectively. Tony Blair came to office determined that the UK would never again allow such mass murder to be perpetrated. He pursued what could arguably be described as a relatively successful foreign policy until the misadventure in Iraq," the report says. Oxfam proposed a number of measures in the report "for any future UK government to consider" in its foreign policy. These include consistently challenging abuses of humanitarian law and human rights; finding new approaches to influence the world's emerging powers to help protect civilians; and strengthening multilateral institutions to protect civilians, in particular by reducing the UN's polarization. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We note Oxfam's latest report in which they argue for an activist interventionist foreign policy driven by core principles. We agree with some of their conclusions, though not all. The UK has pursued an effective foreign policy in the last 10 years, which has been values driven, activist and multilateralist. We have rightly focused on "hard" security issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone as well as "softer" issues such as climate change and poverty eradication. "We disagree that the UK now exercises less influence because of Iraq. On the contrary the UK remains at the heart of every major international debate and our influence as consensus builders is recognized worldwide. As the government has consistently argued, we also believe that our intervention in Iraq was justified. "Our close links with US and European colleagues and partnership with emerging powers like Brazil, India and China also gives us a unique role in forging coalitions for change such as on trade and climate change."