UK ‘Damaged’ by Foreign Policy: MPs

CAIRO — British foreign policy had damaged the country’s reputation in the Arab and Muslim world and weakened its ability to influence the political situation in the Middle East, a report by an influential parliamentary committee concluded on Monday, August 13.

"The Government’s decision not to call for a mutual and immediate cessation of hostilities early on in the Lebanon war has done significant damage to the UK’s reputation in much of the world," said the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

Britain joined the US in resisting mounting international calls for an immediate ceasefire during last year’s Israel’s onslaught on neighboring Lebanon to buy Israel more time to achieve its goals.

The 34-day Israeli blitz had killed up to 1,200 Lebanese civilians and left the country’s hard-won infrastructure in tatters.

"We are concerned that the damage done to the Government’s reputation in the Arab and Islamic world may affect its ability to influence the political situation in the Middle East," said the MPs.

"We recommend that…the Government set out what action it is taking to improve its influence and reputation in the Arab and Islamic world."

The MPs urged direct engagement with Hizbullah lawmakers.

"We conclude that Hizbullah is undeniably an important element in Lebanon’s politics," the report said.

"We recommend that the Government should engage directly with moderate Hizbullah Parliamentarians."

Engage Hamas

The parliamentary report blasted the British policy vis-à-vis the Palestinian resistance group Hamas.

"The decision not to speak to Hamas in 2007 following the Makkah agreement has been counterproductive," it insisted.

The MPs said the British and Western attitude towards Hamas had undermined the Palestinian unity government and failed to resolve factional violence.

"The unwillingness of the EU to modify the financial boycott of the Palestinian Authority following the Makkah agreement was very damaging."

Orchestrated by the US, the West imposed a crippling financial embargo on the Palestinians after Hamas was voted to power last year.

Even after a Saudi-brokered deal resulted in the formation of a national unity government involving the Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the boycott remained in place.

A January report by the parliamentary International Development Committee said this boycott pushed the Hamas-led government to seek support from other parties, including Iran.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee urged Prime Minister Gordon Brown to rethink British policy on Hamas.

"The Government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas as a way of encouraging it to meet the three Quartet principles."

It warned against pursuing a "West Bank first" policy while isolating the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

"We recommend that the Government urge President Abbas to come to a negotiated settlement with Hamas with a view to re-establishing a national unity Government across the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi made a similar recommendation a day earlier.

"Hamas exists. It’s a complex structure that we should help to evolve — but this should be done with transparency," Prodi told a conference in central Italy Sunday, August 12.

"One must push for dialogue so that it happens, and not shut anyone out of dialogue."

Backed by the US, Abbas has ruled out any talks with rival Hamas.

Failing Iraq Surge 

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said the US troop surge in Iraq is likely to fail.

"It is too early to provide a definitive assessment of the US ‘surge’ but it does not look likely to succeed," it concluded in its comprehensive report.

US President George Bush ordered the deployment of additional 30,000 troops to stabilize the Iraqi capital in February.

But despite the buildup, violence has been continuing unabated.

"The committee believes that the success of this strategy will ultimately ride on whether Iraq’s politicians are able to reach agreement on a number of key issues."

The report called on the Brown government to take actions to foster political reconciliation in Iraq.

"This should include a section on how the Government is working to ensure the Iraqi Government meets its human rights obligations and makes a fair allocation of oil and gas revenue."


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