14 February 2004

We must act now over Israel's wall

It is highly unlikely that the British government would have mustered the necessary support for military action against Iraq if it had not assured MPs of two things: that Iraq possessed lethal weapons of mass destruction, and that action against Iraq would form part of a broader engagement with the problems of the Middle East.

The motion for war passed on March 18 last year in the House of Commons explicitly welcomed 'the imminent publication of the Quartet's roadmap as a significant step to bringing a just and lasting peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and ... endorses the role of Her Majesty's Government in actively working for peace between Israel and Palestine'.

Those that were persuaded of the case for war would almost certainly have been more sceptical if they had known what we know now about the state of British and US intelligence. They would also almost certainly have been more sceptical if they had known that by now there would be practically no sustained momentum for peace in the Middle East from London and Washington.

At the time, the line from the White House was that the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad - that cutting off Saddam's support for Palestinian terrorism was the essential first step. But apart from President Bush's photo opportunity in Aqaba and some bold speeches, there is little to show for British and American efforts. The most recent public action of the two governments has been to try and prevent the International Court of Justice from ruling on the legality of Israel's security wall.

The US and the UK have been forced into a position that not only looks unreasonable, but also makes it almost impossible for them to be seen as honest brokers by the Palestinians.

The time for inaction is over. Without concrete steps to dismantle settlements, reroute the wall and start negotiations on a final settlement, preferential trading terms for Israel should be suspended by the EU. The Middle East is too important for Europe's own security to wait for the Americans.

Sir Menzies Campbell is [UK] Liberal Democrat deputy leader and foreign affairs spokesman

What did happen to the theory that the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad? Somehow I've missed all the mentions of it lately.

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