Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence


Written evidence submitted by The Church of England, Mission and Public Affairs Council

  1.  The Church of England welcomes the opportunity to respond to the first phase of the Foreign Affairs Committee's Inquiry into Global Security dealing with the Middle East. The Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England is the body responsible for overseeing research and comment on social and political issues on behalf of the Church. The Council comprises a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the General Synod through the Archbishops' Council.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  2.  We conclude that the migration of Christians from the Middle East is due to a multiplicity of factors. This migration threatens the Church's existence as a viable and sustainable community in the region and it reduces the valuable contribution that the Church makes to the diverse fabric of Middle Eastern society. We conclude that the continued exodus of Christians from Iraq and the wider region diminishes the Church's leverage to contribute effectively to initiatives aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation as called for by recommendation 36 of the Baker Hamilton Report. We recommend that it would ease the deeply troubling situation if the British government refrained from portraying its policies as part of a wider struggle for "our western values" inferentially against the values of Islam and the East. (Paragraphs 12-18)

  3.  We conclude that any recalibrated strategy to Iraq needs to take seriously the reality that Iraq is a failed state in the grip of a sectarian civil war that threatens Iraq's territorial integrity and wider regional escalation. Against this background we recommend that the government clarify what role the remaining British troops will play in Southern Iraq following the draw down and whether they are properly resourced to do so. We further recommend that the government needs to develop its case much more effectively to avoid the potential propaganda victory that the draw down offers to jihadists. Given the litany of errors in planning for the post war, we also recommend that an independent inquiry be set up to draw out lessons to be learnt should Britain ever have cause to intervene again elsewhere in the world. (Paragraphs 19-30)

  4.  We conclude that the government is right to take seriously the threat posed by Iran whether because of its nuclear programme, its support of non-state actors in the Middle East or its aggressive attitude to British servicemen working under a UN mandate in the northern Gulf. The Iranian government must recognise that the pursuit of policies unacceptable to the international community is not cost free. We conclude that a diplomatic and political solution is the only viable and sensible solution to the issue of Iran's nuclear capability. We recommend, however, that the efforts to isolate Iran politically and economically needs to be balanced by a more effective strategy of diplomatic engagement with Iran as to its security concerns. We further recommend that the effective policy response should be to analyse and address Iran's genuine security concerns, but without underwriting its hegemonic pretensions. We accept that a further tightening of the UN sanctions regime might be necessary, but we recommend that careful thought and attention is given to ensuring that the UN sanctions regime does not impact negatively on civil society relations. (Paragraphs 31 41)

  5.  We conclude that the British government's position at the time of the 2006 Lebanon war has tarnished Britain's image in the region and has diminished its ability to act as an honest broker. We recommend that rather than prioritising Hezbollah's disarmament, which has made more fragile Lebanon's national dialogue, the UK government should seek to strengthen that national dialogue, including if necessary further diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria. As the government's own experience in Northern Ireland showed, disarmament is a goal that can only be reached by patient and painstaking negotiations probably taking years, and not at a stroke by a UNSC resolution, external military intervention or by government decree. (Paragraphs 42-51)

  6.  We conclude that despite the significant progress that has been made over the last 50 years in securing peace in the Middle East, the underlying causes of the conflict remain constant: namely the failure of both parties to recognise the grievances of the other, specifically the humiliation and suffering caused by continued occupation, and the fear felt by Israelis at continued violence and terrorism. We recommend that the Quartet balance its demands that the Palestinian Authority control the internal security situation, with equally strong demands upon the Israeli government to cease settlement activity. We further recommend that the government re-assess its policy towards Hamas following the establishment of the Government of National Unity and that it should judge the Government of National Unity by results. To do otherwise, risks undermining further the previously accepted and widely held notion of a viable two-state solution. (Paragraphs 52-63)

  7.  We conclude that many Islamist movements in the Middle East will rightly remain a key focus of attention to those seeking to prevent terrorist attacks against European and North American targets. However, the use of terms such as "Reactionary Islam", "Radical Islam" and "Moderate Islam", in the government's public diplomacy is unhelpful and needs further clarification. At present the government runs the danger of labelling all Islamist movements and organisations as dangerous and hostile, ignoring the significant divergence of views and strategies that exist along the Islamist spectrum. We recommend that if the government is serious about its commitment to strengthening the cause of moderation in the Middle East then it needs to engage more constructively with mainstream Islamist movements. These movements will continue to provide the bedrock of political opposition for the foreseeable future and they are likely to be the immediate beneficiaries of any political reform. We recommend further that the government look to the Barcelona Process to encourage further the pace of economic, social and political reform in the region. (Paragraphs 64-78)

THE GOVERNMENT'S INTERNATIONAL PRIORITIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST

  8.  The government's White Paper of March 2006, Active Diplomacy for a Changing World: The UK's International Priorities, establishes a new set of strategic international priorities which build on those set out by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its first White Paper on the UK's international priorities, 2003. The Prime Minister expounded further on the strategic priorities underpinning British foreign policy in his speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, 1 August 2006, and in his HMS Albion lecture, 12 January 2007. The cumulative effect of these policy pronouncements is to commit the UK to a values' based foreign policy that rejects "benign inactivity" in favour of an interventionist strategy that confronts extremist and reactionary views in the Middle East by defeating terrorism and by promoting democracy and progress.

  9.  The Middle East engages every aspect of our foreign policy, not just our security with regard to conflict, proliferation and terrorism, but the security of our economy. It is a region of the world that is central to the deeper goal of building a safe, just and prosperous world for all. The growing links between domestic and international issues means that British foreign policy to the Middle East impacts as much upon the UK's well being as it does on the security and prosperity of the Middle East. This interdependence of concerns necessitates a comprehensive and integrated foreign policy that carefully balances its use of soft and hard power in a way that recognises the inter-linkage of the challenges and the diversity of Middle Eastern societies. This entails guarding against seeing the region's problems as sui generis and therefore beyond rationalisation, and the temptation to reduce the region's problems to over-riding explanations that legitimate simplistic policies.

  10.  Against this background, we remain concerned at the shape and direction of British foreign policy to the Middle East. While it has been right for Britain to counsel its European allies of the dangers of US isolationism, it is far from clear what political dividend Britain has accrued through its uncritical relationship with the US. British foreign policy to the Middle East increasingly appears to accept and echo the US conflation of complex and separate issues into a "global war on terrorism", now rephrased as "the long war". Despite the Prime Minister's 1 August 2006 Los Angeles speech, British foreign policy in the region is widely seen there as far from even-handed, fair and just in its application of the values of moderation. The renaissance of strategy called for by the Prime Minister appears, publicly at least, to rely more on hard rather than soft power. The net impact has been increased isolation in Europe and a reduction of Britain's influence and political capital in the Middle East.

  11.  We suggest that the expected draw down of British troops from Iraq allied to the political transitions in British politics provides an important opportunity for Britain to recalibrate its foreign policy to the US and Europe as well as to the Middle East. The strategic challenges identified by the 2006 White Paper will remain constant, but the next Prime Minister will hopefully, by virtue of being able to move beyond the recent history of the Iraq war, be better positioned to affect the necessary change in British foreign policy to respond more effectively to the region's challenges.

THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND AND ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MIDDLE EAST

  12.  This submission draws upon the multiple relationships that the Church of England has with the Middle East in general and the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East in particular. The latter is a Province of the Anglican Communion stretching from Iran in the East to Algeria in the West, and Cyprus in the North to Somalia in the South. Geographically it is the largest and most diverse Anglican Province. The Province consists of some 30,000 practising Anglicans. There are churches throughout this area, mostly looked after by indigenous clergy, as well as schools, hospitals and other foundations—many of them in places where poverty, civil strife and religious problems are commonplace.

  13.  The Church of England through its dioceses, mission agencies and development agencies supports the ministry and mission of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. A number of Church of England dioceses have active companion links with particular churches or diocese in the region. Mission agencies such as the Church Mission Society, the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Mothers' Union provide financial assistance to particular projects like the Ahliyyah Girls School in Amman, Jordan, the Princess Basma Centre for the Handicapped in Jerusalem and kindergarten facilities associated with St George's, Baghdad and the Ahti-Arab Hospital in Gaza.

  14.  The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East has always been affected by political developments in the region. However, developments in the Middle East since September 2000, including amongst others the second intifada, the geopolitical fallout of 9/11, the regional instability caused by the 2003 Iraq war and more recently the 2006 Lebanon war have all placed additional strains upon the indigenous Church. The most visible expression of this strain is the accelerated migration of Christians of all traditions away from their homelands.

  15.  This migration threatens the Church's existence as a viable and sustainable community in the region. It substantially reduces the valuable contribution that the Church makes to the diverse fabric of Middle Eastern society. Left unchecked it risks reinforcing the myth, both in the East and the West, that the underlying tensions in the region are part of an irreconcilable clash of faiths and cultures. The situation on the ground is somewhat different from that envisaged by the Prime Minister in his 1 August 2006 speech.

  16.  There are strategic dimensions to this development. The Iraq Study Group noted, in recommendation 36 of its report, the contribution that religious communities and leaders can make in fostering dialogue and reconciliation across the sectarian divide. One example of this contribution is provided by the Maronite Church in Lebanon, which was widely acknowledged as offering the most promising of schemes for a lasting peace during last summer's conflict.

  17.  We remain committed to developing inter-religious dialogue in the region and supportive of efforts to form inter-religious councils in particular countries such as Iraq and Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. However, we fear that the continued exodus of Christians from Iraq and the wider region diminishes the Church's leverage to contribute effectively to initiatives aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation. Efforts to strengthen the position of the local Church through re-energising the diverse set of relationships that exist remain a key priority. However, while an important act of solidarity such efforts can offer little more than a band aid given the multiple problems that the local Church faces.

  18.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, following his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in December 2006, has expressed his concern that Western interventions in the Middle East, most notably in Iraq risked jeopardising further the position of Middle Eastern Christians by reinforcing the perception of them as supporters of a crusading West. In this statement he was repeating the concerns expressed four years ago, in October 2002, in the Church of England's House of Bishops' submission to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. It would ease this deeply troubling situation if the British government would refrain from portraying its policies as part of a wider struggle for "our Western values", inferentially against the values of Islam and the East.

IRAQ

  19.  On 21 February 2006 the British government announced its intention to hand over to the Iraqi government responsibility for all of the southern provinces under its jurisdiction by November 2007 and to start drawing down its troops. We support the government's view that this withdrawal should be related to the situation on the ground, not held hostage to an artificial timescale. However, the government must also ensure that any withdrawal does not lead to a renewal of conflict or create a situation where those remaining British troops are not adequately equipped to provide for their own protection should they come under attack. To this end the government needs to clarify what role the remaining troops will be able to play in the South, especially on the borders with Iran, and whether they are properly resourced to do so. The recent Iranian seizure of British servicemen in the northern Gulf dramatically underlines the potential vulnerability of British forces, even when operating under a UN mandate.

  20.  British foreign policy in Iraq appears trapped between the intractability of the situation on the ground and the US determination to "stay the course". Despite the initial welcome given by the UK government to the Iraq Study Group Report it appears to have had little influence in impressing the report's analysis and recommendations on either the American or Iraqi government. The anticipated draw down of British troops provides the government with an opportunity to recalibrate its foreign policy objectives to Iraq. In our view this needs to take as its starting point the reality that Iraq is a failed state in the grip of a sectarian civil war. There is therefore a serious threat to Iraq's territorial integrity and a continuing risk of wider regional escalation.

  21.  Whilst the government acknowledges the seriousness of the security situation, it has consistently refused to describe the situation as constituting a civil war. Yet by any military index the annual number of civilian casualties, even those at the lower range of estimates, exceeds the accepted casualty threshold of what constitutes a civil war. It is true the violence is fragmentary and complex, involving a multiplicity of sources. But that should not conceal the reality that the civil war is tearing apart such residual inter-communal cohesion as Iraq experienced before 2003. The nature of the violence, involving as it does extra judicial killings and torture, and the associated population movements (1.8 million internally displaced Iraqis since 2003, with an average of 45,000 Iraqis leaving their homes every month) constitute a form of "cleansing"—the forced separation on sectarian and ethnic lines of major cities with mixed populations.

  22.  The UK government is right to assert that terrorism predates the 2003 Iraq war, and that the majority of the violence witnessed in Iraq is sectarian in nature. Yet, evidence suggests that Al Qaeda, having been evicted from its safe haven in Afghanistan, has taken advantage of the chaos in Iraq to set up new training grounds for jihadist terrorists, most notably in the Anbar Province. Arguably the greatest impediment to prospective gains in the "war on terror" is the galvanising effect the Iraq occupation has had on terrorist recruitment, morale and capability. It has reinforced Al Qaeda's grand narrative depicting the US and the UK as seeking to establish Western hegemony in the region.

  23.  The radicalisation of some sections of European Muslim society, already evident prior to the Iraq war (due to issues like Israel-Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya) has been confirmed and intensified by the ongoing occupation of Iraq. The war has given an opportunity to radical Muslims, both in Europe and in the Middle East, to attach their own local particular concerns onto a wider global contest. There are no accurate predictions of the number of European Muslims believed to have joined the jihad in Iraq, but those who do return are likely to possess a significant body of knowledge and experience. Returning jihadists to Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already illustrated their appetite for destruction, as shown for example by the suicide bombings in Amman, Jordan in November 2005.

  24.  British public diplomacy and the manner in which it has framed the strategic narrative to events in Iraq appear inappropriate to the situation that has now developed. This is in part due to the flawed narrative that the government used to frame its policy decisions at the time of the 2003 Iraq war. The government has claimed that its anticipated draw down of troops reflects the success of Operation Sinbad. The jihadists argue the drawn down is in fact a humiliating withdrawal. If the government is to avoid the potential propaganda victory that the draw down offers to the jihadists it will need to develop its case much more effectively.

  25.  The government's public reluctance to acknowledge the reality that there is a civil war has meant that its policies have sometimes appeared misguided and counterproductive. The origins of Iraq's civil war lie in the collapse of the authority and structure of the state and its administrative incapacity following the US-led invasion to provide for the security and well being of the Iraqi people. Politics in Iraq has become simultaneously more local and international, involving a dispersal of power and authority to local communities and foreign capitals. The removal of the state as a focus and instrument of identity formation has resulted in the emergence of sub-state and ethnic identities often involving self-legitimising hybrid ideologies (sectarian, religious and nationalist) backed up by militia force.

  26.  It is crucial to understand that religion per se is not the cause of the violence. The violence is a result of the lack of post-war planning prior to the invasion, resulting in misguided policies that have contributed to the hollowing out of the Iraqi state. Iraq's civil war was not an inevitable consequence of the 2003 invasion. The litany of mistakes committed in post-war planning warrant the need for an independent inquiry in order to ensure that the necessary lessons can be learnt should Britain ever have cause to intervene again elsewhere in the world.

  27.  The government is right to stress that Iraq's Government of National Unity is very recently formed and that governing by coalition is never easy. However, the intensive effort in 2005 to build an electoral system to empower Iraq's Government of National Unity has exacerbated the sectarian violence. The electoral system resulted in the creation of large coalitions, most of which have played to the lowest common denominator by deploying ethno-sectarian rhetoric. Repeated statements from Iraqi government ministers recognising the need for national reconciliation contrasts with the way in which government ministries continue to be run as personal and party fiefdoms, often along aggressively sectarian lines, with scarce government resources diverted to build personal and party constituencies.

  28.  Reversing this trend requires a strong government with a monopoly on coercion with administrative capacity to give it legitimacy. There is little evidence to suggest that such a development is imminent or likely. The Iraqi government's rejection of the underlying analysis provided by the Baker-Hamilton underlines how elusive national reconciliation remains. It is difficult therefore to see how the deployment of additional US troops to the country can offer anything other than a temporary relief from the chaos. Whether or not there is progress towards national reconciliation, any Iraqi government is likely to want military and economic assistance from the broader international community for the foreseeable future. The mix between economic and military assistance might change, but Iraq's dependency upon the international community will not.

  29.  The primary objective of future British foreign policy to Iraq must be to ensure that the chaos in Iraq does not spill over into a broader regional conflict that risks politicising further the growing Sunni-Shiite divide in the region. This scenario is best avoided by intensifying the efforts towards national reconciliation in Iraq. In the absence of such progress, active consideration needs to be given to whether a move towards a negotiated federal structure might be a desirable solution. Ultimately, however, given that Iraq as a territorial unit is a recent and artificial construction that has only been maintained through strong government, the continuing absence of a strong and effective government in Iraq might necessitate a managed partition of the country.

  30.  Although not an ideal solution, a managed partition involving Iraq's neighbours would be preferable to the current ad hoc and bloody partition which risks seeing Iraq's factions being used as vehicles for a proxy war between Shiites and Sunnis in the region. Whatever the future status of Iraq, it is evident, as noted by the Baker Hamilton report that it must involve the active support and participation of Iraq's neighbours buttressed by a re-energised commitment from the wider international community. Similar steps were taken with Dayton to provide for Bosnia, and a comparable agreement with Afghanistan's neighbours underpins the status and borders of that country.

IRAN

  31.  The government is right to argue that Iran's refusal to comply with United Security Council resolution 1737 is an issue of regional and international concern. In the absence of effective guarantees Iran's nuclear programme, allied to its missile programme, represents a serious security threat to the region as well as to the wider non-proliferation system. Further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is wholly undesirable. Iran's relationship with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Shia militia in Iraq complicates the moves towards regional peace and security. The deteriorating situation in Iran with regard to human rights and the diminished space in which civil society operates underlines the fragility of Iran's political system at a time when the country is experiencing declining economic performance. The prospect of Iran crossing the nuclear threshold, at a time when its long-term stability is in question, is a matter of grave concern. The Iranian government must recognise that the pursuit of policies unacceptable to the international community is not cost free.

  32.  What is likely to be the most effective response to these serious concerns? Will Iran's further isolation, economically and politically, resolve the current crisis? Although it is too early to assess the economic and political impact of UNSC resolutions 1737 and 1747, Iran, despite its best diplomatic efforts, now stands isolated internationally. There is, however, always a risk in such situations that an incremental toughening of the UN backed sanctions regime will strengthen the Iranian government domestically by providing it with an opportunity to explain away its own economic mismanagement. This could lead to an unhelpful mobilisation of popular support in favour of the intransigence of the Iranian government, at a time when there is mounting popular and political criticism of President Ahmadinejad's domestic and foreign policies.

  33.  To avoid the danger that UN sanctions might prove counter-productive, it is essential that the government, working with its EU partners, better explain its policies to a wider Iranian audience. This could be done by use of existing programmes, such as the ERASMUS MUNDUS programme, to strengthen the message that these policies are targeted at the current Iranian government rather than the Iranian people. The government's decision to provide funds for the creation of a BBC Farsi TV channel is a positive development. It should explore further other additional ways of strengthening the links with Iranian civil society.

  34.  Our own ongoing engagement with Iranian civil society, most notably through the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue in Tehran and certain seminaries in Qom demonstrates that some sections of Iranian civil society are willing and able to engage with third parties in a way that is often overlooked by Western governments and media. It would be particularly unfortunate if such civil society relationships were lost as a consequence of the hardening of diplomatic positions.

  35.  We are encouraged that the Prime Minister has stipulated that a diplomatic and political solution is the only viable and sensible solution to the issue of Iran's nuclear capability. Only a clear and imminent threat from Iran could justify a military attack. To the best of our knowledge and belief there is no such threat. However, we do recognise that the UK government needs to take prudent precautionary measures to ensure that Iran's increased political and economic isolation does not lead either to the Iranian government increasing its support for regional non-state actors or to it adopting policies in Iraq that are counter productive and damaging to regional security and stability.

  36.  We are therefore concerned at reports that the US naval build up in the Gulf has led to Iran actively strengthening Hezbollah militarily. This increases the risk that Iran and the international community will become embroiled in a series of proxy wars, as occurred in Lebanon in 2006. Similarly, Iran's seizure of British military personnel who were operating under a UN mandate in the Northern Gulf, although totally unwarranted and unjustified, reveals the inter linkage of issues and concerns. Both actions are deeply damaging to the region as well as the prospects of a negotiated settlement between Iran and the international community.

  37.  Economic sanctions alone will not resolve the problems with Iran. A more effective carrot and stick policy is needed which recognises that recent changes in the Middle East have boosted Iran's self-perception as the hegemonic power in the region, but in a way that leaves many of its security concerns unaddressed. The effective policy response should be to analyse and address Iran's genuine security concerns, but without underwriting its hegemonic status. The June 2006 proposals by the P5+1 countries (the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany) provide Iran with the possibility of a modern civil nuclear power industry and offer a basis for wider co-operation. We believe, however, that the agreement fails sufficiently to address Iran's legitimate security needs, offering only a new political forum to discuss security issues. What is needed is a more effective package of incentives and disincentives, which seeks to both engage and contain Iran. The successful negotiations between the international community and North Korea offer a potential model for further engagement.

  38.  All too often the UK government portrays Iran's nuclear programme as irrational and ideologically driven. This is an inadequate analysis. There are clear ethical and political reasons for trying to understand more accurately what is motivating the Iranian government. Ethically, it ensures that we do not dehumanise our neighbours or those who threaten us. Politically, it opens up a range of activities from diplomacy and constructive foreign policies, to agreements and confidence building measures, including addressing long standing grievances that are critical to achieving the common good, including the good of the perceived adversary.

  39.  We do not suggest that Iran's regime and ideology poses no threat to Western values and interests. Iran's recent seizure of British sailors clearly illustrates that it does. That the threat can be overstated does not mean that it does not exist. But it does suggest the need to dispassionately and rigoursly assess that threat and then develop an appropriate policy response designed to contain or remove that threat. We are encouraged that the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee has decided to launch a separate inquiry on Iran following the seizure of the British sailors.

  40.  The Baker-Hamilton report underlined the importance of negotiating with Iran other than on the streets of Baghdad. It is neither in the US nor Iran's interests for Iraq to descend further into civil war. Given that Iran, of all of Iraq's neighbours, has the most leverage in Iraq, it is encouraging that the US participated in a regional conference in Baghdad involving Iran and Syria and that a subsequent regional conference has been planned in the near future. This needs to be built upon.

  41.  The focus of these conferences is rightly on Iraq, but it is to be hoped that they will provide the basis for more constructive engagement on other issues. It would be deeply damaging if Iranian co-operation on Iraq was rewarded with a "axis of evil speech", as occurred following Iranian cooperation on Afghanistan. However, before dialogue with Iran can be taken forward, the issues arising from her illegal seizure of British personnel operating a United Nations mandate in the Northern Gulf will have to be resolved. This means both obtaining their release and firm assurances that there will be no repetition of such action.

LEBANON

  42.  Like all nations, Israel has an unquestioned and legitimate right to self-defence. The issue is whether its response to Hezbollah's cross-border incursion of 12 July 2006 was proportionate, reasonable and just. Our judgement is that Israel's use of military force to press the release of two captured soldiers was excessive and an unwise over reaction. It was also ineffective. It left unexplored the possibility of a diplomatic solution. The decision to widen the war aims from neutralising the Hezbollah threat, to punishing the Lebanese people as a whole, by destroying much of the country's infrastructure, was self-defeating. Such action weakened the capacity of the Lebanese state to provide for the well being of its population, This, consequently, has made more stark Lebanon's sectarian divide. The war also highlighted particular deficiencies within Israel's armed forces and the general inability of states to secure their war aims in asymmetric wars.

  43.  The UK government was criticised heavily for the position that it took at the time of the 2006 Lebanon war. From the time of the G8 St Petersburg statement (16 July) up to the meeting between the Prime Minister and the US President (28 July), the Prime Minister offered what appeared to many uncritical support of US policy. This provided the necessary international cover to allow Israel to pursue by force its strategic objectives. In so doing the UK allowed itself to be portrayed as part of a proxy war involving the US and Iran and their client states and organisations, Israel and Hezbollah. That the UK government appeared impassive to the humanitarian suffering and the destruction caused by Israel's actions has tarnished Britain's image in the region and has diminished its ability to act as an honest broker.

  44.  Central to the government's position at the time of the Lebanon war was the belief that for any ceasefire to be lasting it was necessary to address the underlying causes of the crisis. It held that the causes rested in the lack of progress in implementing United Nations Security Council resolution 1559. The UK government was unwise to believe that Lebanon's problems could be resolved externally through recourse to a UNSC resolution on the back of an unpopular Israeli war. The war increased support for Hezbollah within Lebanon and across the whole Middle East as well as revealing more starkly Lebanon's sectarian divisions. Once again, the UK government finds itself struggling to reconcile its desire for stability in Lebanon with its vision of real democracy.

  45.  UNSC resolution 1701 does little to solve the underlying causes of the problem. It reiterates the need for the Lebanese government to exercise control over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of past UNSC resolutions, and the Taif Accords. It provides for a demilitarised zone between the Blue Line and the Litani River to be manned by a strengthened UNIFIL working alongside troops provided by the Lebanese army. Politically, however, it accepts that UNIFIL is intended to buy time for progress on the political front both within Lebanon and between Lebanon and its neighbours.

  46.  Internally, this involves progress on the future shape of Lebanon's confessional system. Externally this necessitates removing potential flashpoints between the two sides. The lack of political progress to date on both these issues means that there remains a high risk of further conflict either because Israel cannot tolerate a rearmed Hezbollah on its southern borders or because of an Iraqisation of Lebanon flowing from the stalled process of national dialogue. Either way, it is unrealistic, in the absence of a wider political settlement, to expect UNIFIL to plug the gap indefinitely.

  47.  UNSC resolution 1701 recognises that disarmament can only be achieved as part of wider national debate within Lebanon as to the future shape of the country's confessional system. The national debate, which re-emerged following Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, now appears stalled. The central problem remains the lack of consensus as to the future shape of Lebanon's political system flowing from its confessional system. The issue of Hezbollah's disarmament remains a powerful potential obstacle, one that could result in continued strife, either between Israel and Hezbollah, or within Lebanon. The international community is facing a seemingly intractable dilemma. It can either accept a continuation of the status quo, namely the existence of a state within a state, or it can pursue Hezbollah's disarmament with the likely consequence that this will lead to a state within a failed state.

  48.  There are no easy solutions to this dilemma. A realistic policy stance has to recognise two things: first, the support that Hezbollah now enjoys amongst its own constituency; and second, the anger that many of Lebanon's displaced Shi'ites now feel towards Israel, the US and the UK. Given that, we do not believe that disarmament is a viable political option to be pursued in the short term. Rather, the international community has to recognise that disarming Hezbollah will not be achieved at a stroke by a UNSC resolution, external military intervention or by government decree. As the UK government's own experience in Northern Ireland showed, disarmament is a goal that can only be reached by patient and painstaking negotiations, probably taking months if not years.

  49.  Rather than prioritising Hezbollah's disarmament, which has made more fragile Lebanon's national dialogue, the UK government should seek to strengthen that national dialogue, which may involve further diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria. It should also consider whether it could provide additional economic and social support for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Lebanon following on from the Paris III Conference. As a Church we remain committed to help fostering this dialogue within Lebanon by supporting the Middle East Council of Churches and the efforts of indigenous churches to participate actively and constructively in this dialogue.

  50.  Despite the lack of progress domestically, we believe that the international community can still play a constructive role by removing the potential flashpoints between Lebanon and its neighbours, not least by assisting resolution of the territorial dispute over the Sheba'a Farms. Recognising the importance of making progress on external matters underlines the point that Hezbollah, while the proximate cause of the problem is at a more fundamental level a symptom of the ongoing tragic conflict over Palestine. In this sense British foreign policy on Lebanon both at the time of the 2006 war and since appears based upon a false analysis.

  51.  To argue, as the British government did in July 2006, that the root causes of the crisis rest with Hezbollah and that the crisis can be resolved by eradicating Hezbollah's military strength, reveals a diminished ability to address those root causes, let alone to deal with them. The government's strategy appears to be more one of conflict management rather conflict resolution. The government should encourage the process of national dialogue within Lebanon and work to ensure that Hezbollah is unable to rearm and mobilise, not least by engaging with Iran and Syria. However, these steps can be no substitute for "a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East" as recognised and called for by UNSCR 1701. Without an effective resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the prospects for a durable settlement both within Lebanon and between Lebanon and its neighbours are limited.

THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS

  52.  The Prime Minister was right to stress in his Los Angeles speech, 1 August 2006, that "nothing else is more important to the success of our foreign policy" than the completion of the Middle East Peace Process. He stated that this required working "relentlessly" and "vigorously" to putting a viable Palestinian Government on its feet and by offering a vision of how the roadmap to final status negotiations can happen and then "to pursue it week in, week out". Securing a satisfactory settlement of this conflict would, he argued, redraw the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East by providing "living, tangible, visible proof that the region and therefore the world can accommodate different faiths and cultures, even those who have been in vehement opposition to each other."

  53.  We recognise that all too often the lack of settlement in the Israeli-Arab conflict provokes a deep sense of frustration, even despair. It is important, nevertheless to note that some significant progress has been achieved, even if it highlights the lack of progress in other areas. The landscape of the Middle East has fundamentally changed over the last 50 years with peace treaties between Israel and Egypt (1979), between Israel and Jordan (1994), as well as Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon (2000) and Syria's subsequent withdrawal from Lebanon (2005). Even within Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories progress has been made, most noticeably with the establishment of a Palestinian National Authority and Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.

  54.  We are encouraged that there is a political consensus between the relevant parties as to what a just, comprehensive and lasting solution might entail: a viable two state solution, which provides for a safe and secure Israel and a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. It remains true that final status issues, including border issues, have yet to be agreed. Nevertheless these will have to be consistent with the terms of reference of the Madrid Conference and its principles, including land for peace and relevant UNSC resolutions and the "performance-based" road map (2003). The broad outlines of this arrangement, and the principles underpinning them, are consistent with the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States (2002) and it provides the working framework for the Quartet.

  55.  By recognising the important steps that have been taken, we do not diminish the seriousness of outstanding issues that stand in the way of a final settlement. We hold that the lack of progress towards a negotiated settlement between Israel and Syria based on resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) remain a significant obstacle to a securing a comprehensive regional peace. Disagreement between relevant parties as to whether the measures envisaged by the road map should be sequential rather than parallel, have too often led to political paralysis and missed deadlines. The use of violence on both sides and the continuation of settlement activity remain key factors in the failure to move beyond Phase I of the road map.

  56.  We believe that the underlying causes of the conflict as cited by the Mitchell Report of 2001 remain constant: namely the failure of both parties to recognise the grievances of the other, specifically the humiliation and suffering of Palestinians caused by continued occupation, and the fear felt by Israelis at continued violence and terrorism. We are disappointed that the Quartet has been unwilling to use its authority to encourage both parties forward. It has to balance demanding that the Palestinian Authority control the security situation, with equally strong demands upon the Israeli government to cease from settlement activity. Divisions between the Quartet's members have inhibited it from acting with the necessary determination and consistency. In so doing members of the Quartet have often failed to adopt clear, critical and independent positions on the issues at hand which has diminished the Quartet's authority and legitimacy.

  57.  Highlighting the progress that has been made shows that peace is not impossible nor beyond human imagination. With persistence, patience and determination further progress can be made. That of course must ultimately come from within the communities at the heart of the dispute. But others have their part to play in trying to bring about the right conditions. We hold that the road map should remain the point of reference since it is the only document of recent years that has been accepted by the Security Council, Arab States, and Palestinian and Israeli leadership. The Quartet needs, however, to take lead responsibility for creating the conditions necessary to restore faith and confidence in the practicality of the road map and in so doing to re-energise both the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and its consultations with relevant regional partners.

  58.  This involves three things: first a recommitment to the basic goals and objectives underpinning the road map; second, a new timetable that is informed by priority action in various fields; third, addressing in a transparent manner the road map's basic premise of parallelism and monitoring. We consider that these measures would best be taken through convening a regional conference, similar to that held in Madrid in 1991.

  59.  We fear that progress on this matter has been threatened by the international community's preoccupation with the question of Hamas. The decision to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority and the subsequent channelling of funds through temporary relief mechanisms has, in our view, served only to undermine the capacity and capability of Palestinian institutions to provide for the well being of its citizens.The establishment of the Government of National Unity, along the lines brokered by Saudi Arabia in Mecca between Hamas and Fatah, should prompt the international community to reconsider its policy.

  60.  We understand the Israeli government's continued concern that Hamas has yet unequivocally to accept the international community's demands. However, we agree with the analysis provided by the House of Commons International Development Select Committee which concluded in a report earlier this year that "...the international community is right to place pressure on Hamas to change those policies which mitigate against a peace process. However, this would best be achieved through dialogue and engagement rather than isolation." As the British government's own experience of Northern Ireland illustrates, peace is a process rather than an event and as such it needs to be encouraged and nurtured.

  61.  In view of the above analysis we suggest that the Government of National Unity should be judged by results. First, it needs to show its resolve by imposing internal security in Gaza and by preventing rocket attacks on Israel by radical militants. Second, it needs to work actively towards the release of the Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, as part of a wider prisoner release deal. Third, Hamas run ministries need to be evaluated on whether they encourage Islamist policies that distort the fabric of Palestinian society. Finally, the Unity Government needs to accept that any peace accord negotiated by President Abbas and the Israeli government is binding on the government itself, especially if supported by a national Palestinian referendum.

  62.  To do otherwise risks alienating other friendly powers that have worked to broker the Mecca deal. It would discourage Hamas from moderating its policies in important areas. A policy of continued isolation and non co-operation runs the risk of destroying further the fabric of government on the West Bank and Gaza and turning both into walled refugee camps. In this respect we are alarmed at the analysis provided by the World Bank (September 2006) that poverty has risen from 44% in 2005 to 67% in 2006. Such high levels of poverty in Gaza and the West Bank threaten to undermine further the previously accepted and widely held notion of a viable two-state solution.

ENGAGING WITH THE ISLAMIC WORLD

  63.  In his Los Angeles speech, 1 August 2006, the Prime Minister called for a "complete renaissance" of foreign policy to combat "Reactionary and Radical Islam", not only regionally in the Middle East but also globally. He justified the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq and his support for the G8 Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative on the grounds that such interventions are not just about changing regimes but about changing the value systems governing the nations concerned. His comparison of "Radical Islam" to early revolutionary communism suggested that the current battle over values is similar to that of the Cold War, in that ultimately it can only be defeated at the level of ideas. The Prime Minister then went on to use this grand narrative to explain that most of the ills of the Middle East, whether in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon or Gaza are the product of religious extremism intent on depriving people of their democratic freedom in favour of governance by a semi feudal religious oligarchy. The challenge therefore was to "empower moderate mainstream Islam to defeat reactionary Islam". The Prime Minister indicated that this process of modernisation within Islam is already showing signs of success: in the UAE; in Bahrain; in Kuwait, in Qatar; in Egypt; in Libya and in Algeria.

  64.  We agree with much of the analysis provided by the Prime Ministers, but we remain concerned that a single overriding narrative risks oversimplifying unduly a complex and fluid situation. There is certainly a radical and violent Islamist element to much of the violence in the Middle East. But, as suggested earlier in this submission with regard to Iraq, it would be erroneous to assume that there is uniformity to the violence, either in terms of its origins or in terms of its agents. The government's analysis risks reducing the region's problems to over-riding explanations that legitimate uniform and misguided policies.

  65.  The danger of over simplification is illustrated by the government's use of terms such as "reactionary Islam", "radical Islam" and "moderate Islam" in much of its public diplomacy. But what do these categories mean in practice? The government runs the danger of labelling all Islamist movements and organisations as dangerous and hostile, ignoring the significant divergence of views and strategies that exist along the Islamist spectrum. When the government speaks of moderate Islam, is it referring to secular Islam or is it also referring to those mainstream Islamist movements that remain conservative in nature, but have eschewed violence in favour of peaceful political activity? We suggest that the government needs to clarify its use of these terms.

  66.  We accept that some Islamist movements and organisations are dangerous because of their willingness to resort to indiscriminate violence. These organisations have the potential to cause great loss of life in the pursuit of political goals, which are ill defined and impossible to achieve. They will rightly remain a key focus of attention for those seeking to prevent terrorist attacks against European and North American targets. It is, however, unwise to see them as central to the political landscape of the Middle East. By contrast, mainstream Islamist movements have had and will continue to have a significant impact on the future political evolution of the Middle East. They have already impacted upon the social landscape of many countries by halting and in some places reversing the secular trends, not least in the way that many Arabs dress and behave.

  67.  Many Islamist movements are fulfilling their immediate political goal by becoming powerful political forces. This includes Morocco's Parti de la Justice et du Developpement (PJD), Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Wasat Centre Party, Yemen's Islah (Reform) Party, Jordan's Islamic Action Front, Kuwait's Islamic Constitutional Movement and Bahrain's al-Wefaq (Concordance society). These movements contrast favourably with other powerful Islamist movements that have run in elections such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine that show a willingness to engage in the political process even if they have not formally renounced violence.

  68.  We suggest that if the government is serious about its commitment to strengthening the cause of moderation in the Middle East then it needs to engage more constructively with these Islamist movements. Even within these organisations there are crucially important issues to be addressed, such as the application of Islamic law, the use of violence, pluralism, civil and political rights, women's rights and religious toleration. The resolution of these issues will determine whether the rise politically of Islamists movements leads the Arab world, toward democracy or, conversely, to a new form of authoritarianism.

  69.  An example of the debate is found in the question of religious freedom in Egypt. There the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is calling for full-fledged democratic reforms but it remains, unlike the Wasat Party, reluctant to endorse equal rights for Copts, Egypt's native Christian minority. The difference is explained by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood remains a religious movement with a political identity, whereas the Wasat Party is a civil party with an Islamic marji'iya. Unless Islamist organisations that have a dual political-religious identity, can be encouraged to accept the principle of universal citizenship without discrimination on the basis of religious belief their position towards religious minorities will remain uncertain.

  70.  The UK government may need to accept that its objective of democratic reform in the Middle East is unlikely to lead to the imminent emergence of secular organisations with unblemished liberal qualifications. Such organisations, where they do exist, lack any large constituency and are therefore unlikely to be able to secure political office for some considerable time. Abstract messages about democracy resonate only at a very general level and, with the notable exception of Lebanon's Cedar Revolution, have failed to serve the basis for political mobilisation.

  71.  Islamist groups will continue to provide the foundation of political opposition for the foreseeable future. They are likely to be the immediate beneficiaries of any political reform. They will attract popular support for a multitude of reasons, not least the appeal of the Islamist message which powerfully combines a religious ideal with the concept of social justice. This concept of social justice is embodied in the network of welfare organisations that Islamist parties have set up in many countries and which are now well financed and organised.

  72.  We do not intend to suggest that Middle East countries will never experience Western style secular, liberal democracies, but rather that Islamist groups have more than a head start in the electoral race. The government's strategy of encouraging an "arc of moderation" in the Middle East by providing democracy training for political parties or even funding to secular parties and liberal civil society organisation is unlikely to alter this reality. On the contrary, America's funding of Fatah's election campaign illustrates, it could make the situation worse, since it will more closely identify the government with some political parties at the expense of others.

  73.  The UK government would do better to engage constructively with Islamist organisations, especially their reformist wings, in an attempt to influence the balance of debate between hardliners and reformers on particular grey issues. This will require an in-depth understanding of the internal politics of Islamist movements and a recognition that there is no uniform tipping point between movements. Such a nuanced strategy would not sit well with the government's uncritical use of the language of "Radical Islam", "Reactionary Islam" and "Moderate Islam".

  74.  A strategy of engaging with Islamist organisations needs to go hand in hand with intensified diplomatic pressure on Arab governments to introduce political reform. Despite the government's claim that there are signs of democratic reform in the Middle East, the most that can be said is that there are some liberalised autocracies: there remain no Western-style democratic Arab countries in the region. While nearly all Arab states now possess parliaments, these parliaments lack any significant power or the ability to overturn decisions taken by an unelected executive.

  75.  The UK government should be wary of the political discourse, promoted by a number of authoritarian governments in the region, that argues that political liberalisation will lead to political instability and seizure of power by radical Islamic extremists. This discourse plays to the natural insecurities and anxieties that many Western governments have about Islamist politics. It ignores, however, the evidence that suggests that political success strengthens the side of reformers and encourages Islamist parties to change further by clarifying their position on certain key issues. Islamist groups become more radicalised the greater their exclusion from the political process since there is no motivation to progress beyond unyielding dogmatic positions.

  76.  The most effective, but often overlooked tool that the government has at its disposal in encouraging the pace of economic, social and political reform in the region is the EU's Mediterranean and Middle East Policy. Since 1995, the Barcelona Process has provided the foundations of a new regional relationship between the EU member states and partner countries in the Near East (Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip) backed up by bilateral co-operation and association arrangements. These technocratic and bureaucratic agreements provide the EU and its Near East partners with a safe environment in which they can consider, in a coordinated and sustained manner, the three main goals of EU Mediterranean policy as set out in the Barcelona Declaration (1995) and in the Common Strategy adopted by the European Council in Feira (2000).

  77.  The Barcelona Process can be no substitute for the wider resolution of the Middle East Peace Process, but it is a necessary prerequisite for any agreement. The challenge is surely to make the Euro-Med Free Trade Zone a reality by delivering and promoting regional infrastructure initiatives in important areas such a transport, energy, telecommunications, environment, equal opportunities and education and training and employment. In so doing the EU must ensure that its relations with its Near East partners remain conditional on each country's measurable commitments to achieving respect for the principles underpinning the Barcelona Process. If successful, the Barcelona Process provides the EU with important leverage to help integrate the Middle East into the global political economy.

Rt Revd Tom Butler

Bishop of Southwark

Vice Chair: Public Affairs, Mission and Public Affairs Council

April 2007





 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 13 August 2007