Students at INTO’s London Academy of Diplomacy joint venture are often given the opportunity to hear the views of some of the UK’s leading figures in international diplomacy. Barry Tomalin reports on a major event they attended recently at the House of Commons.
“Keep talking. Never break the thread of diplomacy, no matter how bad or frustrating the negotiation.”
Such was the message delivered to UEA London Academy of Diplomacy staff and students 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 and also their Excellencies the Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko; Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Professor Manuel Hassassian; former member of the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) Dr Einat Wilf; and Anas Altikritti of the Cordoba Foundation.
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 on Syria 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 1980s – and emphasised that, despite the tensions caused by military action, both sides had never stopped talking, albeit behind the scenes.
Most participants seemed to agree with Jack Straw’s assertion that there is “no political holy grail,” and with Lord Hannay’s determination that negotiations must be controlled by the UN and that the aim should be to set up regular meetings through a ‘contact group,’ composed of 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 that have been 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 religious fatwa issued to permit people to cook and eat cats and dogs in order to survive – food normally considered unclean by the Muslim religion.
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 it in the opinion of the meeting it seemed unlikely to resolve individual suffering in either the Palestinian/Israeli or Syrian conflicts any time soon.
Posted By Barry Tomalin MA and Dr Deborah Swallow PhD, lecturers at the London Academy of Diplomacy, UEA.
Author: Barry Tomalin
Barry Tomalin MA is visiting lecturer in ‘International Communication’ and ’Cultural Awareness’ at the University of East Anglia, London Academy of Diplomacy and author with Brian Hurn of ‘Cross-Cultural Communication, Theory and Practice,' Palgrave Macmillan 2013.