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Charlie Hoyle

UK manifestos see clear left-right divide on Middle East

British PM Theresa May called a snap election on April 18. [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 June, 2017

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While Middle East foreign policy in the two-party system became largely indistinguishable in the Blair, Brown, Cameron sequence of national leadership, the new manifestos see a clear divide.
With just a week to go until Britain's general election, the manifestos are out, the debates are done - barring one party leader's notable absence - and the issues are still being hotly debated.

While Middle East foreign policy in the two-party system had become largely indistinguishable in the Blair, Brown, Cameron sequence of national leadership, the new manifestos see a clear divide between Conservative policies on the right, and a Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Green bloc on the left.

On arms sales in the Middle East, parties on the left of the spectrum have taken an approach rooted in international humanitarian law. 

Labour's manifesto seeks to implement the Arms Trade Treaty to a higher standard and cease arms exports to countries where they could be used to violate international law.

In particular, Labour says it will suspend all further arms sales to Saudi Arabia until an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Yemen war is completed.

The Liberal Democrats take a similar approach, seeking to control exports to nations listed as human rights priorities, while "suspending" arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The new manifestos see a clear foreign policy divide between Conservative policies on the right, and a Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Green bloc on the left.

The Conservative manifesto does not mention policy on arms sales, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen. That is hardly surprising, though. During the first year of the deadly conflict in Yemen, the UK licensed some £3 billion in arms sales to the Saudi kingdom.

On Israel and Palestine, the left-right divide is again stark. Labour said it would "immediately recognise the state of Palestine" while calling for an end to the "blockade, occupation, settlements" and "rocket and terror attacks".

Liberal Democrats say they would recognise Palestine "as and when it will help the prospect of a two-state solution", condemning both Israel's settlement-building and Hamas' rocket attacks.

The Conservative manifesto, once again, makes no mention of Israel, Palestine - or the peace process at all.

Another pressing issue in the Middle East over which the UK could exert some influence is the devastating Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 500,000 lives and displaced an estimated 11 million civilians.

Labour's manifesto says it would work "tirelessly" to end the conflict, restart diplomatic efforts, and fully support international work to "investigate, prosecute, and convict" perpetrators of war crimes. They would accept a "fair share of refugees", but do not specify numbers.

The Liberal Democrats go one step further. They want to work with the UN to break the deadlock at the Security Council, "deter the use" of chemical weapons on civilians, and demand "humanitarian access" and the "release of political prisoners" and their families. 

Notably, of the big three parties, they are the only one to set out refugee numbers in their manifesto, pledging sanctuary for 50,000 refugees and indefinite leave to remain for 3,000 unaccompanied children.

The Green Party seeks an "ethical foreign policy" and an end for "aggressive wars of intervention", while also banning arms sales to oppressive regimes. There is no specific mention in their manifesto, however, of Israel, Palestine, Syria, or Saudi Arabia.

Yet again, on Syria, the Conservative manifesto falls short of even mentioning the conflict, let alone its resolution. On the subject of refugees, it says Britain will remain a sanctuary, but the party will work to "reduce asylum claims".

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