Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Clegg calls for end to arms to Israel

. First, according to Facebook it is Nick Cleggs birthday so happy birthday and all the best wishes. Writing in the Guardian this morning it was heartening to see Clegg being forthright in his criticism of Israel and to make several important policy points. His indictment of the international community is telling and rings true; although it appears Barack Obama might be edging towards breaking his silence, saying he is "deeply concerned" by civilian casualties on both sides.

He is of course right to say that;

"Israel's approach is self-defeating: the overwhelming use of force, the unacceptable loss of civilian lives, is radicalising moderate opinion among Palestinians and throughout the Arab world."

Only this morning on Radio 4 I heard the comments of a Palestinian activist who had spoken to his Fatah-supporting brother in Gaza who said 'everyone was united against Israel as a common enemy'. Other issues exist that cohere people around Hamas like perceived Fatah corruption would also have to be addressed for Hamas to be undermined. However, Israel's attacks and blockade are two things that Israel can change if it really is serious about wanting to undermine Hamas.

Clegg calls on Brown to do two things; condemn 'unambiguously' Israel's tactics just like he 'has rightly Hamas's rocket attacks' and stop arms exports to Israel and apply pressure to other European Union countries to do the same. Frankly, this action is long overdue; the international community cannot criticise Iran for arming Hamas while at the same time continuing to arm Israel. It is hard to see how this is not one-sided and how it would be perceived (with a degree of justification) as a clear 'taking of sides'. This is damaging for a community that has a key role to play in brokering peace in the region.

Again correctly Clegg recognises that;

"the world's leaders must accept that their response to the election of Hamas has been a strategic failure."

He calls for;

"An EU mission with a serious mandate and backing from Egypt and Israel"

to police the Egypt-Gaza border. I would go further and say there needs to be an international presence on the Israel-Gaza border to ensure Israel is ceasing it's blockading activities. Of course, Clegg wouldn't go that far but the logic of a mission on one border makes it all the more sensible on the other; again it is a question of balance. Finally, Clegg rightly says that Hamas must turn it's back on terrorism but the way it will do that is when Israel recognises that it has to diplomatically engage with Hamas on some level. All-in-all a welcome policy statement from Clegg on this crisis which strikes the balance needed.

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