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Chris Patten has said what many of us are thinking.

Chris Patten urges bolder EU approach over Middle East conflict

Mercredi, 21 juillet 2010 - 21h36

Wednesday 21 July 2010


The European Union must shake off US dominance and take a bolder approach in pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the former Conservative cabinet minister and EU commissioner Chris Patten said today on a visit to Gaza.

Israel’s policy of blockading Gaza had been a “terrible failure – immoral, illegal and ineffective”, he said, which had “deliberately triggered an economic and social crisis which has many humanitarian consequences”.

In an interview with the Guardian, he suggested it was time to reassess the isolation of Hamas, saying that approach had failed to weaken it.

If this issue was left for Europe to sort out, it would have been resolved decades ago. But, as the Americans have assumed overall control, and as the Israelis have an astonishing influence over the US House and Senate, the issue has dragged on needlessly for decades, even though - whether people like it or not - we all know that this will be sorted out roughly along the lines of US resolution 242.

But, as Patten makes clear, for far too long the European position has merely echoed the American position, whether we actually agreed with that position or not.

“The default European position should not be to wait to find out what the Americans are going to do, and if the Americans don’t do anything to wring our hands. We should be prepared to be more explicit in setting out Europe’s objectives and doing more to try to implement them.”

He implicitly criticised US dominance of the Middle East quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – by saying he concurred with the description of it by the leader of the Arab League as the “quartet sans trois”.

Patten, who found it “easier to get into a maximum security prison in the UK than to enter Gaza”, said Israel’s relaxation of its blockade had not gone far enough. "It’s moved from about minus 10 to about minus eight. It doesn’t do anything to help restore economic activity in Gaza.

“It’s difficult to understand what preventing exports has to do with security. It has everything to do with the view that Gaza should be collectively punished to discredit Hamas. Unfortunately there are some centuries, if not millennia, of history that show that does not work. Presumably the international community as well as Israel wants at some stage – sooner rather than later – to be able to persuade Gaza and its political leadership to take a course which will lead to reconciliation and peace and stability. It’s difficult to know how you accomplish that if you deny the people of Gaza any social or economic progress.”

I am very pleased that Patten recognises that what is transpiring in Gaza is an act of collective punishment. I wish the administration of Obama could be as clear in identifying what the Israelis are actually doing in Gaza.

Patten - and American readers should be aware that he is a former chairman of the Conservative party and was also Governor and Commander in Chief of Hong Kong, so we’re not talking about some woolly minded Liberal here - has also stated that the Israeli embargo of Gaza “looks and feels and is like a medieval siege”.

The Israelis get away with this kind of barbarity because they always want to talk numbers, how many kilos of this or that they are allowing through, rather than talk honestly about the effect that the siege is having on the people of Gaza.

And, although the Israelis have recently started to claim that the siege is to stop rockets from reaching Gaza, that is a fairly recent excuse for what they are doing. In truth, they are punishing the people of Gaza for daring to elect Hamas, as Dov Weislglass made clear at the start of this.

The rationale to all this was explained by Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, earlier this year. ’The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.’

And Chuck Schumer recently made it clear that the purpose of the siege was to punish the Palestinians for voting the wrong way in an election and, worse, appeared to suggest that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

SCHUMER: And to me, since the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas, while certainly there should be humanitarian aid and people not starving to death, to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go, makes sense.

So, Patten does very well to call for Europe to distance itself from the US on this subject, and to continue to speak out against this barbarity which is being carried out against the Palestinians.

He then makes what I think is the strongest case for Israel coming to her senses over this matter: a two state solution ensures the survival of Israel, a one state solution does not.

Before crossing to Gaza with the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, of which he is president, Patten visited the West Bank and was shocked by the “huge new settlements”.

“We’re told there is an ’unprecedented freeze’, but I saw large numbers of houses and flats being built as we speak. One of the key elements of a final agreement [between Israel and the Palestinians] will be how you cope with settlements. The more difficult it is to secure a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, the more difficult a final agreement will be.”

If two states were no longer possible, then there would have to be one state on the land, he said. “But can you have that and retain a Jewish state which is democratic? I haven’t heard anyone argue that convincingly.”

Europe must stop simply parroting whatever line the Americans are currently taking and speak out and say what we honestly think.

And, in the long term, Israel’s best interests would be far better served by listening to Europeans rather than US right wing fundamentalists.