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Wednesday 25 May 2011
How can Israel negotiate?
Your leading article (23 May) was remarkably naïve in exhorting Israel to negotiate with Hamas because "that is what a previous British government did with the IRA in the 1990s to get the peace process in Northern Ireland moving".
First, the aim of the IRA's acts of terror on the mainland was a united Ireland and there was no intention to destroy England. Hamas states clearly in its charter that its aim is the destruction of Israel and ridding the whole region of Jews. They admit that their agreement to a hudna is only a temporary truce until they can regroup and regain their strength for the next confrontation.
Second, the behaviour of Fatah, the so-called "peace partner of Israel", in creating an alliance with Hamas shows their true colours. That should have been evident from President Abbas's refusal to acknowledge Jewish historical claims and ties to the land, denial of the Holocaust, naming streets, squares and sporting venues for "martyrs" who killed dozens of civilians, the constant anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda and incitement on the Palestinian media and his statement that not a single Jew will be allowed to live in his new State of Palestine.
Israel handed back the Sinai peninsula to Egypt for peace, vacated Gaza at huge financial and human cost only to be rewarded by thousands of rockets and the kidnapping of a young soldier who has been held for five years with no visitation by Red Cross.
All Israeli governments have constantly stated they are prepared to make generous and painful compromises for peace. Abbas only lays down pre-conditions for negotiations. How can Israel be expected to negotiate with such people?
Bet Shemesh, Israel
On 21 May, a letter from Dr Faysal Mikdadi and another from David Lewis, Gerald M Adler and Jonathan D C Turner revealed the extreme positions of Palestinians and Israelis, neither of which represent a long-term solution to the problem between Israel and Palestinians.
Dr Mikdadi's position of Israel being "in illegal military occupation of Palestinian lands" is undoubtedly correct. But it is also correct that Israel would find it hard to defend their state from Palestinians and other Arab nations if the 1967 boundaries are re-established.
It is also incorrect for Messrs Lewis, Adler and Turner to refer to the 1922 Mandate and Article 80 of the UN Charter as justifying Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Zionists convinced the British government in 1917 to allow Jews to enter Palestine in significant numbers without the British or the Zionists acknowledging the significant Palestinian population.
This was the initial injustice towards the Palestinian population. Although Zionists in 1947 were satisfied with a limited area of Palestine as announced in the UN Charter, they did acknowledge amongst themselves that the initial position was a first step towards gaining control of all of Palestine between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Israel, in principle, does not accept a two-state solution. And neither do Palestinians accept that a two-state solution would bring about justice to the distribution of land. A long-term solution will be reachable after both parties accept that an injustice to Palestinians has occurred and they would be able to discuss a new singular state embracing Palestinians and Israelis.
Professor Alderman (letters, 23 May) says that any opposition to Israeli settlements is "continuing Hitler's work". Nazi policies included Lebensraum (with forced evictions to make way for people of a specific ethnicity), ghettoisation, and withholding human rights based on race. I think the comparison to Nazism is gratuitous, offensive, and irrelevant. But if one is brazen enough to make it, one should at least think it through fully.
Railway review and high fares
A new review of the railways has said that the cost of running the network should be lower. I suggest we start by deducting from the government subsidies the value of dividends paid to shareholders every year.
I find it remarkable that a company in the private sector, which cannot survive without a huge amount of government subsidies, pays dividends to its shareholders.
Surely a better model for rail companies is a single not-for-profit organisation which has a successful model in Network Rail.
This country needs a flexible national railway system which operates for the good of the environment and the travelling public. I have driven to several evening sports events because the relevant rail company cannot get me home on the same evening. I drive to central London, even at the weekend, because the fuel costs and central London parking charges are less than train tickets for a family of three. Something is clearly wrong with our rail network if it is cheaper to drive or fly.
Has any one considered that reducing ticket prices combined with more flexibility in their use might encourage more rail travellers and reduce the running costs per mile? Unfortunately, I think the reverse is true: rail prices are high to choke off demand because of the reluctance to invest in the future.
With the removal of the last restaurant car service on the railways, I began to think back to other services that have vanished from our everyday lives and are still missed by some of us of a certain age.
Staying with the railways, I remember the baggage car that made the journey so much more comfortable for passengers who did not have to negotiate piles of suitcases as they went to the buffet or toilet. There was a simple system of tickets that did not require a mathematical genius to unravel the cheapest fare. And there were porters, who either helped you to board the train with your suitcases, which they placed on the rack or deposited in the baggage car; you knew they would still be there when you reached your destination. But where are the charming young ladies in cinemas with trays of ice-creams you could afford? Or friendly conductors on your local bus service, who assisted the elderly on and off and provided a feeling of security for late-night travellers? Or park-keepers, who kept sharp eyes on their domain and made your visit enjoyable.
And we have lost the freedom to park close to our destination, without having to pay a huge charge and without the fear that if you are so much as one minute late leaving a traffic warden will delight in giving you an enormous fine.
We have also lost the ability to phone a company and speak to a real person without the irritation of having the following six options. Finally, we're banned from buying real beef dripping, thanks to some EU rule. What else will vanish?
Gag order makes law look an ass
In breaking the super-injunction, the problem isn't that the law will look like an ass if it is not respected. It is that Lord Judge and his colleagues are perceived to be asses.
Walking around with half a pound of horse hair on your head and wearing silk gaiters fortifies that perception. Having the arrogance to think that any one in California or Scotland will comply with their edicts is just a personification of their arrogance; only fools would attempt to enforce the unenforceable. Speaking in convoluted legalese (to justify breathtaking fees for simple concepts) that above-average-educated people have to decode and analyse to understand will not win the point.
Not realising that these football celebrities earn fantastic sums from the sale of image rights, cultivate for gain their image and receive huge salaries on the back of extortionate ticket-prices negates the right to privacy available to ordinary citizens.
If football celebrities don't live up to the images they have cultivated and profited from, they are peddling lies and committing fraud. Why should the law protect them from the truth becoming public knowledge?
Europe wary of rape case 'truths'
I think Jay McInerney missed the point in his article "The rich and powerful in handcuffs" (21 May). The reaction in Europe to an allegation of rape has nothing to do with what the US seems to perceive as European tolerance of "immoral behaviour" by powerful people.
Rape is considered a serious crime. Europeans will rather be more concerned about a media circus about a criminal allegation which seems to condemn the accused before a trial has begun; the "coincidence" of an allegation being made against a man who favours the euro over the US dollar; supports Europe as an economic power house; was heading for a crucial meeting to help European partners when arrested, and was leading in the polls in France against an ineffective President who is a friend and new ally of the US
No one in their right mind would think of accusing Mr Obama of being involved. But America has a reputation of involving itself, via its agencies and institutions, in trying to influence outcomes which favour its own economy and politics. Examples include Iraq and South America.
This is why Europe remains to be convinced that all this was just a "coincidence" and why French people remain sceptical about what is purported by US media as "the truth".
Nuclear subsidy already in place
It is welcome news that Chris Huhne has been "warned off nuclear subsidies" (Report, 16 May) . Sorry to rain on the government's parade, but such subsidies are already happening with the ongoing nuclear decommissioning of nuclear power stations.
This programme was estimated at between £80bn to £160bn two years ago for all 20 nuclear plants. So it is a safe bet that the decommissioning of half this number to make room for the proposed French reactors will cost at least £50bn.
A pro-nuclear proponent will argue that while this might represent a subsidy for the previous nuclear reactors (along with billions of govermment spending on early R & D and huge costs on THORP at Sellafield) , nevertheless the new operators should be given a clean slate.
Even if we make this massive concession, what about the future decommissioning costs when the French reactors come to the end of their life? The answer surely must be that the new reactor company, by contract, should be required to put aside sufficient funds during operation, to enable decommissioning costs to be covered. Only then will we see whether nuclear power can operate competitively.
I suspect that if this proposal is included in all future nuclear reactor contracts, there will be no takers. If this does happen, the government will have wasted a lot of money because decommissioning costs leading to a clean slate are much more expensive than "simply" mothballing the old reactors a la Chernobyl.
That money could have been better spent on the Severn Tidal Barrier scheme which would have replaced the power generated by nuclear.
Dr Phil Nicholson
Former Lecturer in Nuclear Physics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Implant makers tightening rules
I read your article "Patients' lives put at risk by faulty medical implants" (15 May) with some concern. As the industry association for medical device manufacturers in the UK ABHI is not in a position to comment on criticism of individual products, but we wish to respond on matters concerning device regulation.
Europe is approaching almost 20 years of proven effectiveness of the Medical Devices Directive in regulating the safe introduction of new medical technology. The EU system is ahead in terms of patient access as European patients benefit from the latest in safe technology nearly two years ahead of their US counterparts and up to five years ahead of Japanese patients.
Recent research shows that the regulatory process in Europe is more efficient than in the US while not compromising patient safety.
The industry has consistently supported the need for regulation of medical technology and has itself argued in favour of the reforms proposed by the EU Commission and some member states. The Medical Device Directives are undergoing a revision to ensure the regulations are "fit for purpose".
Chief Executive, Association of British Healthcare Industries, London SE1
If someone who had been finance minister and then prime minister of his country for 10 years and had left it with a public-spending deficit so colossal that it would take decades to pay off, but was French, say, or Belgian, would we now welcome him as candidate for head of the IMF? Mr Brown's main recommendation for the job seems to be that he would be unlikely to grope the secretaries.
So Thatcher wasn't reckless and "wouldn't have flown too close to the sun"(Mary Ann Sieghart, Viewspaper, 23 May)? Has she forgotten the poll-tax fiasco that helped to bring about her downfall? Or for that matter, the over-confident attitude to the first ballot of the 1990 leadership election when a better campaign would have given her victory, and a chance to bow out gracefully?
Play the ball
Why does The Independent distributed in Scotland carry a saltire on its masthead when it can't even carry a match report of the Scottish Cup Final (23 May)?
Perspectives on doom-sayers
Easy to mock but this is serious
It's easy to mock those who, like Harold Camping, predict the end of the world ("End of the World is very nigh indeed", 21 May), especially when some of the prophets are serial predicters. But there is a serious side to this matter.
Many of such people need the help of a psychiatrist; and their pronouncements lead followers into delusion, madness and sometimes suicide. We need to try to understand why this happens.
In the Bible, there are two cloudy, end-times books, Daniel and Revelation, which are frequently quoted by prophets of Armageddon. (Wisely, some churches have omitted Revelation from their biblical canon.) These can be accessed by those people with a tendency to last-things prophecy.
But, at the same time, this does not explain why some people are drawn to human finality, whereas others read sacred texts for inspiration to do good now.
Perhaps one can make a case for saying that those who prophesy doom actually want doom. Extinction is their ultimate unconscious wish. And why should this be so? Because life is too complicated today; the decisions of the here-and-now are too great (and most people hate making big decisions); so the desire for mass annihilation emerges, as a kind of (extremely selfish) solution.
Cruel laughter at a dysfunctional cult
You are right that we "love predictions of apocalypse" partly because "we know that we're safe, but get a thrill from imagining that we're not" (Leading article, 23 May).
Yet the story regarding California evangelist Harold Camping clearly did not garner so much attention for that reason or because we wanted a quick laugh and the chance to gain insight into an eccentric cult, whose members were willing to sacrifice everything in anticipation of the end of their lives on earth.
Of course, mocking the beliefs of religious fanatics is not new, and there is nothing wrong per se with doing so. But I cannot help detecting a sense of cruelty behind the desire to laugh at Camping's devotees.
We seemingly wish to see people humiliated and revel in our own superiority. It is an interesting story when a small group predicts that the apocalypse will happen tomorrow, but still a very minor issue.
As news articles on this affair become some of the most popular on the Web, perhaps we should be asking ourselves what is wrong with a society that takes delight in the dysfunction of the cult's followers.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Brasenose College, Oxford
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