UK’s tac­tics over the re­port could hurt Obama’s MidEast mis­sion

The Jewish Chronicle - - News -

Al-Quds Hospi­tal in Gaza City and the ad­ja­cent am­bu­lance de­pot with white phos­pho­rous shells”. In the fol­low­ing para­graph it notes that this and a sim­i­lar at­tack on Al-Wafa Hospi­tal in east­ern Gaza marked a “vi­o­la­tion of the pro­hi­bi­tion of at­tacks on civil­ian hos­pi­tals, in both cases”.

But a vis­ceral re­ac­tion to the ef­fects of white phos­pho­rous does not en­tirely ex­plain the tac­tics of the UK gov­ern­ment at the UNHRC ses­sion on the Gold­stone Re­port in Geneva last Fri­day.

The res­o­lu­tion ac­cus­ing Is­rael of war crimes was easy to re­ject. Peter Good­er­ham, the UK’s Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the UK Mis­sion in Geneva, stated at the time: “Nei­ther the re­port nor the res­o­lu­tion re­flected the right of Is­rael to pro­tect its cit­i­zens or paid suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion to Ha­mas’s ac­tions.”

So why not sim­ply vote against it? The UK would not have been alone. Italy, the Nether­lands, Hun­gary, Slo­vakia and Ukraine op­posed the mo­tion along with the United States.

The ex­pla­na­tion is that Prime Min­is­ter Brown and French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy were in­volved in last-ditch ne­go­ti­a­tions to per­suade Is­rael to ini­ti­ate an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry and be­gin dis­cus­sions about hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to Gaza and Is­raeli set­tle­ments. A let­ter from Sarkozy and Brown was drafted , but Is­rael got cold feet.

The fail­ure to vote at all is seen in Down­ing Street as a prin­ci­pled po­si­tion, but it smacks of a clas­sic Gor­don Brown fix.

For some time now David Miliband has claimed that UK gov­ern­ment pol­icy in the Mid­dle East is geared to mak­ing it eas­ier for Barack Obama in his ne­go­ti­a­tions with Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans. UK ne­go­tia­tors will now ar­gue that the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent has been given the am­mu­ni­tion he needs to ar­gue that there is sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion to the re­port.

Now Bri­tish ef­forts will con­cen­trate on di­rect­ing the is­sue away from the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly and a re­peat of Geneva’s “the­atre”.

But by push­ing Obama into a po­si­tion where he may have to use his veto to shoot down calls to pros­e­cute Is­rael in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has risked se­ri­ously un­der­min­ing the US pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion in the Arab world.

The two great in­tel­lects of the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment may have found com­mon cause, but they have been too clever by half.

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