Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Important Blair Messages

Tony Blair’s speech in Los Angeles has received publicity mainly for his remarks about “reactionary Islam”.

But its most significant and new parts where not really this.

Two things are particularly worth noting in the speech.

First, the emphasis that he places on the imperative of reconsidering and re-balancing the policy that has been pursued during the last few years.

He stressed that in the situation now this “require us to change dramatically the focus of our policy.

This he said without going more specifically into where responsibility for the focus that now needs to “change dramatically” lies. Probably wise.

Second, the importance in this context that he gave the situation between Israel and Palestine.

Although he uses his missionary way of speaking to paint the picture of a great battle of values between us and “reactionary Islam”, it is obvious that he does not fail to see the centrality of the Israel-Palestine issue to this battle.

Unless we re-appraise our strategy, unless we revitalize the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade, and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to make peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win.

In order to empower the moderates within Islam and start isolating the extremists, thus putting the Middle East on a modernising path, he urges us to tackle the Palestine issue.

This issue is “utterly fundamental to all we are trying to do.” And he says that “progress will not happen unless we change radically our degree of focus, effort and engagement, especially with the Palestinian side.

Somewhat more specifically, he calls for action “to put a viable Palestinian Government on its feet, to offer a vision of how the Roadmap to final status negotiations can happen and then pursue it, week in, week out, ‘til its done.

Nothing else will do. Nothing else is more important to the success of our foreign policy.

It’s undoubtedly an important speech in both these respects, particularly coming at this period in time.

It calls for reappraisal of policy. It places the Israel-Palestine issue at the centre of everything we are trying to do in the Middle East and the Muslim world. And it obviously calls for a shift in policies in order to make progress here.

There are important hints in the speech on what these could be.

I couldn’t agree more.