Sunday, 25 March 2012

Middle East debate

There was an informative debate in the Lords on the 16th of this month. I had caught snatches of it on BBC-Parliament at the time, including the speech by Jenny Tonge quoted below, but have only just got around to reading the Hansard report.

In view of the misreporting or misinterpretation of Baroness Tonge's views on Palestine, it is worth emphasising her opening remarks: "My Lords, before I speak about recent developments in Palestine, I want to put on record two personal statements. The first is that I am not anti-Semitic but I am anti-injustice, and the treatment of the Palestinians over the last six decades, by Israel and the international community, has been a gross injustice which has eaten away at peace in the Middle East and served to fuel extreme Islamism and terrorism. The second statement is that I believe that Israel has a right to exist within the 1967 borders; of course I do. Hamas leaders, who I have met in Damascus and Gaza, also accept the existence of Israel within the 1967 borders laid down by the United Nations. Sadly, of course, this has not happened and the actions of the state of Israel are becoming more and more dangerous for Israel itself, the Middle East and the wider world." It should be pointed out that before she visited Palestine, even before she entered the House of Lords, Jenny Tonge concerned herself with oppressed people, especially women, all over the world.

The great thing about debates in the Lords is the wide range of expertise and knowledge they can call upon. There were contributions to this debate by Baroness Symons, chairman of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, Lord Anderson of Swansea, a former professional diplomat and later a minister in the Foreign Office under Labour administrations, Lord Wright of Richmond, a former ambassador to Syria, Lord Williams of Baglan, until last October a UN under-secretary-general in the Middle East based in Beirut, and Lord (Clive) Soley, chairman not only of the Good Governance Foundation but also of the Arab-Jewish Forum.

Liberal Democrats who contributed included Lord Avebury (Eric Lubbock) who put in a special plea for the people seeking civil liberties in Bahrain, overshadowed by the events in Syria, Baroness Falkner and Lord Palmer, who took opposite sides on the danger posed by Iran, and Lord Chidgey.

The whole debate betrayed an atmosphere of uncertainty. There was, however, evidence that new technology was enabling people throughout the region to make their individual voices heard. The one bright spot was Tunisia, which was moving towards parliamentary democracy.

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