A ten year call for collective effort to resolve the Israel-Palestine impasse

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oliver milesOliver Miles is a retired British Ambassador serving overseas mainly in the Arab world. He also headed the Near East & North African Department at the FCO in London.

In April 2004, he initiated a controversial letter, with 52 notable signatories, to Prime Minister Tony Blair, calling for a new approach to policy in Palestine and Iraq (extract):

After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood.

Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced.

This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq . . .

oliver miles letter blair
An online search will show that Sir Oliver Miles has continued to search for an effective approach; this week he wrote to the Financial Times, questioning its editorial repetition of the ‘conventional view’ that only the US can change Israeli behaviour – “Time for US to step up on Israeli settlements”.

He points out that some significant moves towards peace in the Middle East have come independently of Washington:

  • President Anwar Sadat’s flight to Jerusalem,
  • the European Community’s Venice Declaration which was the basis of land for peace and the two-state solution,
  • the Oslo accords.

He cites the Israeli reaction to Swedish recognition of a Palestine state, and the vote in parliament for British recognition, as showingi sensitivity to European words. European actions, for example to label, control and eventually ban trade with the illegal settlements in the occupied territories, could give the US a lead. Miles comments that – as the editorial suggested – “the White House at least is probably in the right mood”.

The 2004 letter expresses hopes that major powers will – at last – make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds.

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