[Marxism] Straw goes public with disagreements with Blair on Israeli attacks
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Jul 30 08:01:44 MDT 2006
Cabinet in open revolt over Blair's Israel policy
. Straw joins criticism of Lebanese toll
. Rice in Jerusalem to push peace plan
Gaby Hinsliff in San Francisco, Ned Temko in London and Peter Beaumont
Sunday July 30, 2006
The Observer <http://www.observer.co.uk/>
Tony Blair was facing a full-scale cabinet rebellion last night over the
Middle East crisis after his former Foreign Secretary warned that
Israel's actions risked destabilising all of Lebanon.
Jack Straw, now Leader of the Commons, said in a statement released
after meeting Muslim residents of his Blackburn constituency that while
he grieved for the innocent Israelis killed, he also mourned the '10
times as many innocent Lebanese men, women and children killed by
He said he agreed with the Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells that it
was 'very difficult to understand the kind of military tactics used by
Israel', adding: 'These are not surgical strikes but have instead caused
death and misery amongst innocent civilians.' Straw said he was worried
that 'a continuation of such tactics by Israel could destabilise the
already fragile Lebanese nation'.
The Observer can also reveal that at a cabinet meeting before Blair left
for last Friday's Washington summit with President George Bush, minister
after minister pressed him to break with the Americans and publicly
criticise Israel over the scale of death and destruction.
The critics included close Blair allies. One, the International
Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, was revealed yesterday to have told
a Commons committee that he did not view Israel's strikes on power
stations as a 'proportionate response' to Hizbollah attacks.
Another Blairite minister among the cabinet critics said: 'It was clear
that Tony knows the situation, and didn't have to be told about the
outrage felt by so many over the disproportionate suffering. He also
completely understands the effect on the Muslim community - both in
terms of losing Muslim voters hand over fist and the wider issue of
Blair responded to the dissenters by 'engaging seriously', the minister
said. 'But he made it clear why he felt he had to choose the high-risk
strategy of trying to move things forward for the future of the Middle
East through his talks in Washington.'
In addition to the cabinet critics, one of Blair's closest Labour
confidants was understood to have urged him last week to 'place
distance' between himself and Bush over the crisis.
In interviews last night in San Francisco, the Prime Minister defended
his decision not to call for an immediate ceasefire, but voiced the hope
that an agreement on a UN framework for ending hostilities could be
reached within a period of days. Asked by Sky News if he was too close
to the White House, he said: 'I will never apologise for Britain being a
strong ally of the US.'
He said there had been 'perfectly good' cabinet discussions on Lebanon,
telling the BBC they had not been divisive: 'What they were saying was:
"Let us make sure with urgency we can stop this situation which is
killing innocent people".' Yet there had to be a long-term solution, he
The increase in political pressure came as shifts by Israel and
Hizbollah provided the first faint signs of encouragement for US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's efforts to sell a Blair-Bush plan
for a ceasefire.
Diplomats said her mission would still be difficult, with Israeli
strikes continuing in a bid to end rocket attacks by Hizbollah and the
militia vowing to increase them. But as Rice arrived in Jerusalem last
night, an Israeli official said his government would no longer insist on
immediate disarmament by the militia as part of a deal. The Israelis
would accept an interim arrangement under which an international force
moved it back from the border and prevented it firing into Israel.
Hizbollah has accepted a Lebanese government proposal including an
Rice was due to meet the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, last night
and, after further meetings in Jerusalem, to travel on to Beirut.
Straw's decision to go public with his concerns deepened the rift
between the Prime Minister and his cabinet and MPs in what threatens to
become his biggest foreign policy crisis since the Iraq war.
It also puts Straw's successor, Margaret Beckett, on the spot. She was
planning to go on holiday this week, but may now have to go to New York
to help pilot the draft UN resolution. Eyebrows in Whitehall were raised
last week when she sent Howells to Beirut and Tel Aviv at the height of
The timing of the revolt is awkward for Blair, forcing him to choose
whom to upset: his colleagues back home or his two main hosts on the
five-day trip to the US. President Bush and Rupert Murdoch both back the
Israeli military action. The Prime Minister is due to make a major
speech in California today at a conference hosted by Murdoch. He is
expected to argue that his Washington talks with Bush were geared
towards an 'urgent cessation of hostilities'.
He will also suggest the conflict could have been avoided. Instead, he
will argue, the world turned a blind eye to Lebanon as Hizbollah built
up its arsenals in breach of a UN resolution that required it to be
disarmed and the Lebanese army to be deployed in the border area.
Blair won a concession in the Washington talks - an apology from
President Bush for having failed to ask permission for a plane carrying
bombs bound for Israel to land at Prestwick airport, near Glasgow. But
yesterday, the civil aviation authorities announced that permission had
been granted for two similar refuelling stops by US aircraft carrying
'hazardous' cargo to Israel.
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