This House believes Britain's role in the Middle East is in terminal decline

Monday November 26 2007
Cambridge Union Society, Cambridge, UK

MOTION REJECTED by 32% to 68%


This House believes Britain's role in the Middle East is in terminal decline

On the eve of crucial Middle East peace talks in Annapolis, a special Doha Debates held in the UK examined Britain's role and influence in the region.

During the debate held at the world-famous Cambridge Union on November 26th, 2007 a former Israeli foreign minister accused Britain of feeling its way in the dark in the Middle East and dismissed prime minister Gordon Brown's policy as "a state of confusion."

Shlomo Ben-Ami, a leading player in the last Camp David peace talks, told the audience that "Britain's Middle East role has been taken over by the United States."

"Only the United States is capable of launching a peace process." He added: "This is a tough area. Inspiration without intimidation will not work."

Mr. Ben-Ami made the comments while supporting the motion 'This House believes Britain's role in the Middle East is in terminal decline.'

His co-speaker for the motion, Liberal Democrat Baroness Kishwar Falkner slammed what she called Britain's lost credibility in the aftermath of the Iraq war. "Britain is at best irrelevant, at worst incompetent, and at the very least in decline," she said.

Former UK Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind disagreed. He argued that Britain continues to have influence in the Middle East despite what he called "gross mistakes in Iraq".

Joining him to argue against the motion, leading Arab commentator Raghida Dergham said that Britain still had the opportunity to influence events in the Middle East - but it was up to the British government whether it chose to use it.

"If you leave the Palestinians to the US and Israel alone" she said, "they will never see a Palestinian state. That is why it is very important to have Britain playing a role".

Two thirds of the audience rejected the motion, agreeing that Britain still has a role to play in the region.

Students based in Qatar but representing 10 countries in the Middle East were among those questioning the speakers. A group of 15 students traveled to the UK with the Doha Debates to attend the event, participate in debating skills workshops and to meet and exchange ideas with Cambridge students.

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