Church agency asks Brown not to repeat Blair's Middle East mistakes

By staff writers
June 21, 2007

Christian Aid has this week urged Gordon Brown, who becomes British Prime Minister next week, not to make the same mistakes in the Middle East as Tony Blair.

With a new PM entering Number 10, now is the time for the government to lead a renewed drive for peace, the UK-based international development agency says.

The humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories today is untenable and must be urgently alleviated, churches and NGOs are arguing.

Christian Aid says it believes that Mr Blair’s policies towards the Palestinian Authority have exacerbated the current internal conflict between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that could soon become entrenched in the same way as is happening in Iraq.

Mr Blair, who steps down as prime minister on 27 June 2007, promised in December 2006 that he hoped peace between the Israelis and Palestinians would be one of his key legacies.

But Christian Aid says it is quite clear from the disastrous situation in Iraq and the implosion of the Gaza Strip, that the prime minister has failed to deliver in these areas.

The political isolation of the national unity government together with continued movement restrictions and withholding of tax revenue by the Israeli government has contributed to extremism, poverty and violence.

Meanwhile the British public is paying heavily for Mr Blair’s mistakes as their taxes are funding increasing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. No amount of aid can resolve the humanitarian crisis – a political solution is what is needed, says the agency.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett will next week meet her counterparts from European Union (EU) countries with the Middle East high on the agenda.

Last weekend Christian Aid wrote to Mrs Beckett to urge the government to call on the EU to make a positive effort to start the peace process immediately.

Mr Blair has failed to argue that a year of sanctions against the Palestinian Authority should end immediately, it says. And he has refused to engage with the national unity government.

Christian Aid argues that this isolation has contributed to the collapse of the Gazan economy which has helped created the climate of desperation and increased the severity of the internal conflict.

As governments rush to declare their support for President Abbas, Christian Aid fears the international community is simply repeating the same mistakes. By only talking to Abbas and continuing to refuse to enter dialogue with Hamas, the situation will only get worse, the agency claims.

Recently Margaret Beckett declared that dialogue with all parties was the only way to achieve a long-lasting and sustainable peace.

Christian Aid says the government must act on this and engage with the Palestinian people – that means engaging with all elements within the Palestinian political leadership including Hamas.

Christian Aid has urged the government to call for political engagement by the European Union, specifically:

* A clear message of support from the EU for immediate dialogue between all elements within the Palestinian political leadership with the immediate aim of re-establishing a unity government

* An EU call for an immediate ceasefire between Palestinian factions and security forces

* A European commitment to immediately resume direct aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the creation of the new unity government

* An EU statement demanding that the Government of Israel release Palestinian taxes and customs revenues to the PA.

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