We were invited for drinks at the British Consulate last night by the Consul-General Sir Vincent Fean. Our project is funded by DFID (Department for International Development), the only goverment department which has had its funding increased in the last budget, and so there were representatives there to talk to us about what we were doing on our projects. Also, seemingly, to make sure we said lots of good things about the ICS scheme when we got back. If my training weekend and the last three days are anything to go by, this scheme is an absolutely brilliant opportunity for young people to experience international development in a really constructive way. Although it pains me to think that the positive things I will probably eventually report on the program will make David Cameron think his policies in general are working for young people.
But anyway, we began with lots of awkward silences and painful small talk about how great and successful DFID had been in Palestine. I don’t deny thye’ve done good work, but I think the majority of our group felt pretty uncomfortable in an environment that seemed to be so cut off from the reality of what life is like over here. Beautiful diplomatic house, a phillipino maid and lots of talk about “advocacy” for the Palestinian people, which from what our Palestinian partners from IS have said doesn’t always seem to amount to much when the situation here on the ground is the probably the worst it has been for a long time. Nevertheless, British policy has changed recently from bilateral projects (building housing/sanitation, providing services for young people and women etc) which alleviate the poverty experienced on a day-today basis here, to ones which are focused multilaterally – there was a lot of talk about state-building.
At this point there was only so much British propaganda I was willing to nod along politely to. I asked Sir Vince that if the British government did believe in building a state, then how did he think the British should vote at the UN Security Council on the issue of Palestinian statehood. Considering he is the main point of contact between the UK and here, his opinion would presumably hold some sway. His response was like something out of the diplomatic textbook – he rambled on for about ten minutes about the need for negotiations as the key to resolving the conflict, and quite a lot of other diplomatic drivel that was hard to stomache. But he didn’t anwer my question. So before he could move on I asked him exactly the same question again (bit of a Paxo moment even if I say so myself), and this time he eventually answered. He said that the British should ”abstain’ from the proposal as the bid wasn’t going to be successful so it didn’t matter how they would have voted anyway.
Absolute bullshit! It reminded me of one of my favourite quotes, ”Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” By abstaining, Britain would be intrinsically siding with Israel and America – if this was an equal war, then perhaps that would not be the case, but it clearly is not. How can he talk about state-building but not even be willing to support the Palestinians politically, which seems to be completely necessary to counteract America’s strangehold over the “peace process” so far?! So I asked him that for all the talk about negotiations and peace process, surely the situation here would never change until America turned off the tap to Israel and they were forced to negotiate on a more level playing field. His response? America would never turn off the tap and the Palestinians should be glad to have Obama as a more liberal President. Good God. My eyes scanned around the room and there were a lot of shocked faces, but before I could respond he had moved on.
What is clear is that as much as the British are doing here, and their work does seem to be well respected, everything they do is political and when push comes to shove, do the government really care about radically changing the situation for Palestinians? Or, as Sir Vince quite incitefully suggested, is it a case that any country in the world with a middle class has to be seen as doing something to aid the conflict? It makes me think that whilst what we are doing out here is definitely important, as is the role of international development in general, what needs to change is British policy towards other countries. We need to do the right thing, not the economically and politically beneficial thing.