• Don’t Let Diplomacy Fail


    This week on behalf of the London Academy of Diplomacy at UEA I attended a seminar organised by the Global Diplomacy Forum at the House of Commons and addressed by a number of UK and international VIPs. Here’s the summary.

    ‘Keep talking. Never break the thread of diplomacy, no matter how bad or frustrating the negotiation.’ That was the message delivered to UAE London Academy of Diplomacy delegates by UK and international diplomats, including former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and former British ambassador to the UN, Lord Hannay, at the House of Commons this week.

    The event was a conference on Israel/Palestine and Syria, organised by the Global Diplomatic Forum and chaired by Sky News anchor Andrew Wilson. It featured presentations from British Parliamentarians Lord Hylton, Ian Lucas, John Baron and Mike Gapes but also their Excellencies the Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador and Dr Einat Wilf former member of the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset).

    Despite some scepticism about the results of the Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine Liberation Front signed in 1993 and the likely outcome of the forthcoming Geneva 2 talks on Syria all parties agreed on the importance of continuing dialogue. They also agreed on the importance of the active involvement of Iran in any negotiations and the imposition of as few pre-conditions as possible, limiting the scope of discussion. Interestingly enough, some of the participants had been involved in the resolution of another seemingly intractable conflict – Northern Ireland in the 1980’s - and emphasised that, despite the atrocities, both sides had never stopped talking, although behind the scenes.

    Most participants and discussants seemed to agree with Jack Straw’s assertion that there is ‘no political Holy Grail’ and with Lord Hannay’s and others’ determination that negotiations had to be controlled by the UN and that the aim should be to set up regular meetings through a ‘contact group’, comprising representatives of all sides in the conflict.

    However the urgency of the situation in Syria was highlighted by two Syrian surgeons, now resident in UK hospitals. Pointing out the resurgence of malnutrition and infectious diseases in areas like Homs, Ghouta and parts of Damascus, devastated by the uprising, they referred to food deprivation, the virtual disappearance of basic commodities like flour and sugar and most heartbreaking of all, the recent Syrian Imams’ religious fatwa issued to permit devout Muslims to cook and eat cats and dogs and donkeys in order to survive. These animals are normally considered unclean and therefore unfit to eat. But for the feast of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important celebrations n the Muslim world, it was allowed.

    The possibility of a ’humanitarian corridor’ was raised to allow essential food supplies in but as the diplomats explained, ‘no structure was in place to do it.’ Talking may be the long term answer but, in the opinion of the meeting, it seemed unlikely to resolve individual suffering in either the Palestinian/Israeli or Syrian conflicts any time soon.


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