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Entering the first month of the year and already two major disasters have hit very close to home. Although I  do not know anyone that has died in either Haiti or the Ethiopian airline crash it appears many of my friends did. When disaster strikes nearby it always of course makes it more real. I just cannot image what living in Baghdad is like as yet another bomb explodes and kills 18 people. Disaster continues day in and day out. When will it stop?

Foreign policy by Britain and the US is still mired in confusion, bias and prejudice. It is plain to see that the policy towards the Middle East is fundamentally flawed yet it continues unchanged year after year, disaster after disaster. No it’s not just America’s fault but Administrations come and go; US and British foreign policy in the region stays the same. Who would support US and Britain’s foreign policy in the region at the moment, except for expansionist Zionists and the evangelical right? If you are out there please step forward, would love to hear from you. No really. I want to “get it”.

My previous pessimism regarding Obama and the Middle East strategy is only confirmed by people like Stephan Walt calling for Obama’s Mid East envoy Mitchell to resign:

If Mideast special envoy George Mitchell wants to end his career with his reputation intact, it is time for him to resign.

Walt is very clear and insightful (as usual) as to where it has all gone wrong:

Which advisors told Obama and Mitchell to proceed as they did, raising expectations sky-high in the Cairo speech, publicly insisting on a settlement freeze, and then engaging in a humiliating retreat? Did they ever ask themselves what they would do if Netanyahu dug in his heels, as anyone with a triple-digit IQ should have expected? And if Obama now realizes how badly they screwed up, why do the people who recommended this approach still have their jobs?

The objective was admirably clear from the start — “two states for two peoples” what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through.

Clear thinking…if only. Who has a clue what Obama or Brown’s foreign policy strategy is. I can only see policies that are unplanned, reactionary and weak. That will in the end lead to a tide of unplanned decisions creating a whirlpool of disaster.

In Britain at the moment the argument continues as to wether the Iraq war was legal or not. Security council resolution 1441 that passed unanimously by the security council is at the centre of the debate. Did it allow a pre-emptive strike or not? I am not a lawyer but I wonder how much does it matter if it was legal or not. What really matters is why such an obviously disasters occupation was allowed to go ahead regardless of the legal implications. Why is there not a foreign policy enquiry being carried out that analysis why Britain, and the US as well, has continually screwed up and misunderstood this region. The reason of course is that they don’t want to upset the people they support in the region that keep the oil flowing. But there is another way.

I do believe the West can have oil without creating the kind of misguided policies that are in existence today. I don’t believe in a utopia where everyone will be getting along fine after decades of conflict. But the support of the kind of brutal regimes and equally brutal capitalistic models that we would never accept in our own societies does not have to occur. Why are we not looking seriously at ways to create more sensible foreign policies towards Saudi, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and of course Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine?

Instead the Chilcot inquiry is chugging along, deepening everyones pessimism about the democratic system and foreign policy. There are few sane Kantians left now.

There are some great websites that are painstakingly following the events of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq invasion. And there are even people out there supporting Tony Blair who is due to give his testament soon. This blog that is passionatley for Blair and his invasion makes your stomach turn, here are some wonderful quotes from the blog to get your blood boiling:

THE NUMBER OF DEAD IS NO REASON TO DECRY THE INVASION

The last one makes me want to hit my head on my desk several times. Instead I think of Ghandi and breath:

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

Bin Laden is back with a new tape. Surprised?

So are commentators calling for an invasion of Iran, worryingly by people who should know better. Surprised?

Everyone is predicting a Hezbollah-Israeli war, which will be the war to end all wars. Surprised?

If there was a firm US policy that matches action with words and is more responsive to the justifiable grievances of the region, I personally believe that Bin Laden would be reduced, Hezbollah-Israel tension would be reduced and those calling for war would be marginalised. Instead all three remain on the front line.

I have just returned from a brilliant lecture by Salman Abu Sitta, the Palestinian researcher and writer, entitled “Palestinians:Reversing Ethnic Cleansing”.

Sitta’s argument is simple, loud and clear: the right of return is a fundamental right that is not up for negotiation and the return of Palestinians to Palestine is inevitable. Further to this, the right of return is enshrined in international law through UN Resolution 194 that he rejects was a recommendation: “…the UN has affirmed resolution 194 about 135 times, a case unprecedented in UN history.”

Sitta comes out with some devastating facts that we have all heard before but to me at least still causes disbelief. “UNRWA has a budget that allocates $76 per Palestinian refugee per year, while the US in military and aid give a total of $1000 per Israeli per year.”

Sitta produced some wonderful and painstakingly detailed maps and graph (compiled into his book the Atlas of Palestine 1948). He details how now after ejecting the Palestinians from the land 27% of the this so sacred land is made up of military zones. Sitta describes how Gaza that represents 1% of the total surface area of Palestine now roughly contains the same number of people as Palestine as a whole did in 1948. Of course you have heard all this before….

The interesting part of the Sitta’s argument that I have not heard is his take on UN Resolution 194 that calls for the right of return. Sitta focuses on a third element of resolution 194 that he argues is all too often ignored. This is the creation of a mechanism to implement the right of return: the UN Conciliation Committee for Palestine (UNCCP). The UNCCP ceased functioning in 1966 and Sitta calls for the UNCCP to be reactivated for the return and rehabilitation of refugees.

Sitta is a Palestinian that really believes in the international system. Despite being denied the right to return for all these decades he still believes that by shouting and screaming Palestinians will achieve their right of return. He argues that in Europe esepcially attitudes are changing. When challenged by a German lady in the audience who did not believe this to be the case, Sitta replied that Germany is different but in Scandinavia and in Britain (the people but not the government) there has been a remarkable change in opinion. “In the 1960s in Britain I could not even say Palestine now the public are very supportive.” But of course the way British power is used is very different which Sitta stating that Blair always has a “ever ready present of cash” to block the right of return. So for the UK he may have a point that public opinion may have changed but it is no where near enough.

Salman Abu Sitta is a man that feels he can wait this one out…that return is inevitable. I can’t help feel that is wishful thinking in a hopeless situation….the reality is that return is not inevitable and the balance of power as it is and with things getting worse rather than better this long conflict is only going to get longer. But I hope I am wrong. And as I was reading just the other day South African activists never thought the day would come when in 1990 de Klerk announced the release of Mandela. I am sure this can be applied to many other major historical triumphs but….

In relation to this ever going conflict…many analysts over on Qifa Nabki are predicting that 2010 is going to be the year of a new war between Hezbollah and Israel. The environment in Lebanon seems so far from that atmosphere at the moment. And I really really hope that I am right on that one!

When George Mitchell was appointed Middle East envoy by Obama there was a lot of rice and flower throwing by those who felt finally the US has a envoy that can shift the deadlock between Israelis-Palestinians. Mitchell it was said did wonders in Northern Ireland, he is the best of the best, he can really get the Israelis to stop settlement building and create a Palestinian state. It definitely did have  those on the Israeli side worried claiming that a “fair” diplomat like Mitchell was not what the Israelis expect of a US Mid East envoy.

When Mitchell/Obama got going they looked like they were really going to do something about Israeli settlements and their “natural growth”. The ending was not however, something out of Walt Disney…it was instead closer to the grimy reality that goes on in making many of these enduring spectacles.

Since the bump of the US and Israel over the settlement it looks like Clinton and Dennis Ross are calling the shots on Middle East policy that is slowly returning back to the status quo. Clinton and Ross are taking over policy so much so that there are rumours, that should be treated with more than a health inspectors recommendation of salt, that Mitchell may resign.

However, even if he did who would notice now? I mean where has the man gone….where have the loft days of hope that was created by Obama’s Cairo speech? The heady days of change in 09 seem far away now and Mitchell is certainly not attracting the attention (adulation/nervousness) he once did.

But now there are the rumblings that Mitchell is trying to re-start peace negotiations. Mitchell went to France and is again starting to talk tough to Israel saying that the US could withdraw loan guarantees. But now there is not even a hint of seriousness in the Israeli response. The Israeli Finance Minister responded with a big….shrug:

“We don’t need to use these guarantees…We are doing just fine. But several months ago we agreed with the American treasury on guarantees for 2010 and 2011, and there were no conditions.”

Something tells me the Old George will soon go Missing In Action again….as will any serious change in Middle East policy by the US and stagnation will be the flavour of the year. The Israelis have won there battle against any change in the direction of US policy…but they did’nt really even have to fight.