Sir: The myth is of course now being created, for instance by Mike Caplan (letter, 27 January), that the success of Hamas will now make peace negotiations impossible.
What negotiations? Why should Israel negotiate when it is a thousand times more powerful than the Palestinians, and continues to create settlements with the de facto support of the US and the EU?
Here, for example, is Dov Weisglass, then Ariel Sharon's senior adviser and chief of staff, on how the disengagement from Gaza was designed to prevent the implementation of the roadmap: "Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda" (Haaretz, 8 October 2004). Hamas could not have put it better.
PROFESSOR RICHARD SEAFORD
UNIVERSITY OF EXETER
Sir: Hamas's recent electoral triumph arguably represents only a minor shock in Middle East politics.
Abu Mazen has clearly failed to bring Hamas under control as he was obliged to do under the "roadmap". The new Hamas administration has already indicated that it will continue its campaign of violence rather then seek meaningful dialogue with Israel. For the Israelis, then, there is perhaps little to choose between the two administrations.
Ariel Sharon's Gaza pull-out was not part of some imaginary peace process but the limited result of its absence, reflecting a unilateral approach by Israel in the absence of a credible peace partner. Any future Israeli withdrawals are likely to be conducted in the same unilateral fashion, rather than through a process of dialogue. Until the Palestinian leadership unequivocally recognises the Jewish state, this is how "peace" will be conducted.
Sir: Hamas's overwhelming victory should not come as a surprise, as they have been steadily gaining ground over the last few years on a platform of change and reform.
They worked to build an impressive infrastructure catering to the social, educational, health and cultural needs of the Palestinian people, most of them refugees languishing in squalid and overcrowded camps throughout the Middle East.
The global community must listen to the will of the Palestinian people, refrain from meddling in their internal affairs, and respect their democratically elected leaders.
DR MUNJED FARID AL QUTOB
The Lib Dems make Galloway look good
Sir: How insignificant Mr Galloway's red leotard and rather good cat impersonation appear compared with the behaviour of his so-called Right Honourable colleagues.
I am as indifferent to Mark Oaten's sexuality as I am to Mr Galloway's leotard. What makes one angry is the arrogance and contempt for the electorate of believing you can seek the leadership of a major political party without such a skeleton falling out of the cupboard.
As for Mr Hughes - oh dear, we really didn't care, Simon. Didn't Mr Portillo's sensible handling of this issue teach you anything? You are no media ingenue, and if you want a totally private life, get out of politics.
Mr Galloway discovered that the sting in Big Brother's tail is that being on camera 24 hours a day makes it impossible to fake it. The real you will emerge, however hard you try to hide. Much of what we saw reinforced prejudices, but his willingness to have go and enter into the ludicrous spirit of the farce was oddly impressive.
Mr Galloway has done his colleagues a favour - they can now see that they are light years away from being able to communicate with politically apathetic young people. Earn their respect through straight talking, straight dealing and a respect for the truth, and I suspect they won't care if you are wearing a pink tutu while you do it.
ST ALBANS, HERTFORDSHIRE
Sir: It has been an open secret for years that Simon Hughes was gay.
It was as obvious and conspicuous as the yellow London cab that he drives. But what difference does it make? None. He is a highly skilled and experienced politician and has been an extremely efficient president of his party. If elected, he will make an excellent leader of the Lib Dems, bringing charisma to a party that has been lacking this commodity under Charles Kennedy's steady but dour leadership.
It is sad that, in 2006, a man of Hughes's integrity felt he had to deny his sexuality for so long. Will we ever move on?
Sir: A Davies says that "How a person behaves in his private life is a more accurate indication of his true character than the public persona" (Letters, 25 January). That is undoubtedly true, but it misses the point. The issue is neither the private life nor the public persona of our leaders, but their political projects and what they deliver.
Martin Luther King's private life was a moral shambles, yet he led the civil rights movement and joined it to the protest against the war in Vietnam. Tony Blair's private life is conspicuous for its moral rectitude, yet he leads us into the war in Iraq and joins it to the removal of basic civil rights.
Moral: Mary Poppins at home, but Solomon on the throne.
THE REV KIM FABRICIUS
Sir: Simon Hughes has nothing to apologise for, whether to the Press, party or voters. Asked if he was gay, he said he was not. The mere fact that the journalists who asked him were so blinkered in their understanding of human sexuality that they failed to ask whether he was bisexual is a reflection of their shortcomings, not his.
EDITOR, BI COMMUNITY NEWS, LONDON WC1
Sir: The Liberal Democrats have always been known for their innovative and novel ideas, and the current leadership contest would appear to be no exception - the last candidate to declare his homosexuality gets the job.
WYNYARD VILLAGE, CLEVELAND
Evolutionary theory becomes literature
Sir: Howard Jacobson (21 January) seems to have become disproportionately upset over Richard Dawkins' critique of religion, but the venom of his attack seems to support exactly the position that Dawkins has taken: that religion sometimes brings out the worst in people.
Does Jacobson know anything at all about Dawkins the scientist? Has he ever actually read any of his books? If he had, it's hard for me to understand how he could accuse him of lacking imagination, wit, sympathy, vocabulary and all those other nice literary virtues.
I think there are very few scientists who'd question the importance of Dawkins' contribution to evolution theory and very few readers who would argue with the elegance and directness of his writing and his ability to engage a lay audience at the forefront of scientific debate. That he now turns his intellect towards the very important and topical subject of religion is something to be welcomed, not derided - especially when "the leader of the free world" qualifies his increasingly absurd behaviour by claiming that God talks directly to him.
Perhaps I'm also "sad", but I too find the insights of evolution theory far more surprising and beautiful - and useful - than anything that religion has offered me.
Regional police no help on the street
Sir: If there is now no visible policing in most communities, how can anybody believe that regionalising the police will make it any better? Yes, I can understand that terrorism and organised crime require larger, more co-ordinated responses, but this could equally well be handled by collaboration between forces or by some national force with specialist skills and resources.
These crimes are, almost by definition, infrequent and demand a specialist response. However, the sort of crime that is so debilitating to all of us is generally low-level in nature but an everyday occurrence. It demands largely traditional policing methods: to be visible as a deterrent, to be accessible to collect intelligence and give reassurance, and to be flexible to ensure a quick response and follow-up. In fact, the sort of policing I grew up with, when we were encouraged to approach bobbies on the beat to chat and ask for advice.
I do not know where I would need to go these days to see a bobby "on the beat". The only time we see them in Brighton is when the Seagulls are playing at home. Oh, and when the Labour Party conference is in town, but then they are far too busy arresting 80-year-olds for voicing anti-war comments or wearing anti-Tony T-shirts. How is regionalisation going to help?
The fear of dying in pain and indignity
Sir: Concerning your report on the assisted suicide of Anne Turner (25 January), I am a human rights student and I work as a part-time health-care assistant while studying. I have worked for an NHS initiative allowing people with terminal illness to be supported by carers to live in their homes until the time of their death.
I have been a primary carer to many people dying of terminal illness, all of whom have been in considerable pain and suffering. One patient was a woman in her twenties who was dying of Juvenile Huntington's Disease, a hereditary condition, and terminal cancer. She was able to communicate when we first met and she told me of her fear of suffering the way her father had done, from the same disease. I worked with her until the day she died. She completely lost the ability to function independently.
I am in no doubt that if I were in that situation and suffering to the degree that I have witnessed, I would wish to be spared the indignity and pain and be assisted to die in my own country surrounded by my friends and family. These experiences have confirmed my belief that there should be a practice in place to allow terminally ill people to end their life when quality of life and dignity are overtaken by pain, suffering and terminal illness.
Sir: The Lords said in 1994 that altering the law would lead to undue pressure on vulnerable people to request death. Nothing has changed. What we want is not death with dignity but life with dignity, with good quality palliative care until death naturally intervenes.
Message from a forgotten dominion
Sir: I read your editorial on Canada's federal election (25 January) with amusement, especially the first line: "Considering its size, wealth and distinguished history, Canada has always had a puzzlingly low international profile."
Indeed, Canada's near-invisibility in the British media (your otherwise excellent paper included) was a source of irritation to me during the two years I spent living in England earlier this decade. I can see how this phenomenon could be mysterious to the public, but you are newspaper editors. You could begin to solve this "puzzle" by having a chat with your foreign editor.
Or not. Those zany Aussies are always up to something interesting, aren't they?
With kindest regards, a representative of the forgotten middle child of the British Empire,
No nights at the circus
Sir: Of course the use of wild animals in circuses is wrong. The use of domestic animals as a form of entertainment (letter, 25 January) is also questionable and it is necessary to be very careful not to slip from enjoying the company of companion animals to enjoying in a voyeuristic way the antics of animals in a show. Animals exist for reasons that are nothing to do with giving us pleasure. It is an abuse, even if not cruelly meant, to use animals for fun.
Timing is everything
Sir: Sir Ian Blair's perplexity at the extent of the media coverage of the Soham murders is surprising. These awful events unfolded in an August, which he surely realises is a very slow news month. For this reason alone, it received disproportionate coverage. Drawing conclusions about the correlation between race and media attention from this example is misguided. Timing of events is critical to media interest. If, for example, the Asian tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 had occurred three weeks earlier, it is possible that David Blunkett might still be in the Government.
CHESHAM BOIS, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Lord Salisbury's heirs
Sir: Alex Jacob (Letter, 26 January) himself misses the point in correcting Mark Steel's assumption that the Tory party had nothing to do with the 1833 abolition of slavery or the 1842-1878 Factory Acts. If today's Conservatives were time-warped back to those days, many of them would denounce the former as "political correctness gone mad" and the latter as over-regulation undermining industrial competitiveness. Today's Tories are the spiritual heirs of Lord Salisbury's capture of the Conservative Party in the late 19th century, which postdated the reforms noted by Mr Jacob.
Sir: David Burton (letter, 27 January) has noticed that we look at the world through American eyes. This is not a new phenomenon. We often talk about the Vietnam War. Vietnam was involved in several wars after 1945 (against France, USA, Cambodia and China). I once heard a Channel 4 newsreader begin a story about Mexico with "Meanwhile, south of the border..." And the classic was a BBC television news item in early 2005, which stated that "The USA has given more money to the tsunami appeal than any other country apart from Japan".
Warning: mild interest
Sir: Apropos the British Board of Film Classification's risible "mild peril" and "moderate sex" tags to films (Arts & Books Review, 27 January), more information than we needed was provided when we found out that "the BBFC director has passed Water".