Peace plan doomed from the start
I watched the Israeli Prime Minster's address to the US Congress with increasing disbelief and despair, not because of Mr Netanyahu's statement that Judea and Samaria (West Bank to you and me) is Jewish land, nor that he must have all of Jerusalem, but the nauseating yo-yoing of the members of Congress repeatedly standing up to applaud. It proved that Israel under this man does not want peace, but also that the efforts of Obama are dead in the water before he has even started.
What must now happen is for Europe in the form of the EU, where, after all, the problem of Palestine originated, to take up the issue and become independent of the USA. We should start by agreeing to recognise Palestine at the UN in the autumn. Second, review the Associate State Agreement that gives preferential tariffs for Israeli goods to its largest market. Israel will not negotiate until it has to.
Peter Downey, Bath
Rare example of honest justice
It seems that any opportunity is a good one to delegitimise Israel (letters, 23 May).
To suggest that the legal system is biased is absurd. It has an excellent international reputation among western judiciaries, dating back to the earliest days of the founding of the state. Many may recall the dignity, respect and acclaim received in its handling of the Eichmann trial.
Take a look at recent cases concerning former President Katzir being tried by three judges one of whom comes from an Arabic community as well as decisions against the army and government alike. No different to any other western democracy.
And ask who in any other Middle Eastern country would expect to face a court of law and obtain a fair trail and you may have a different answer. But the knocking will continue for those with other agendas.
Reuben Saffer, Manchester
Please, it's not our 'Jewish state'
I would thank D Roberts (letter, 26 May) not to insult me and the millions of other people of Jewish ancestry who deplore the Israeli government's crimes by referring to that country (three times in one letter) as "the Jewish state". It implies that the writer associates us all with such atrocities, which is deeply offensive – one might go so far as to say anti-Semitic.
Laurie Marks, Cambridge
NHS 'pause' looks a sham
While it is clear from many reports and editorial comment that the Health and Social Care Bill has been subject to a "pause", it may not be clear outside the NHS that key decisions are being made that unconstitutionally anticipate the passing of the Bill. For example, in London half the staff of the primary care trusts have already been made redundant.
Mr Cameron needs to instruct the Health Secretary and the NHS chief executive that the pause of the Bill, if it is to be more than a cosmetic process, requires an immediate halt to this kind of sharp practice.
Also, if the pause is to have any meaning, key terms, particularly "privatisation", need definition. Coalition spokespeople keep on asserting that the Bill does not involve privatisation, but measures to commercialise NHS services are pervasive.
Dr Peter Draper, London N6
David Bennett, head of the foundation trust regulator Monitor, has defended its proposed role as an overall NHS regulator tasked with promoting and controlling marketing competition. Mr Bennett claimed that "choice could deliver better outcomes for patients". This is the same claim the Tories made in the 1980s and 1990s when they privatised our utilities and railways; look how well that turned out.
A recent article in the British Medical Journal backed the view that the Bill is effectively a one-way door to privatisation, as it will force the NHS to follow EU competition rules. Private providers have stated their intention to use the courts to enforce their right to bid for any area of NHS work. There is therefore no protection against the domination of the private sector in the supply of health care to the public.
The Health Bill is fatally flawed. A health system based on profit-driven competition – where commercial companies can limitlessly take over NHS services – will undermine patient care and the values of the NHS.
Aneurin Bevan said that the NHS will last as long as there are enough people prepared to fight for it. I intend to be one of those people.
Julie Partridge, London SE10
If our National Health Service is the envy of the world, the world must be in a dire state.
Yet another report on inhumane care of the elderly ("Hospital patients 'left so thirsty doctors had to prescribe water' ", 26 May) will stimulate demand for the option of an assisted death. Opponents' vision of universally available palliative care, obviating the need for this choice, seems a pipe-dream so long as ordinary hospitals cannot provide even basic civilised care.
Roger Goss, Co-director, Patient Concern, London SW5
Flying round the ash clouds
Your Science Editor clearly does not understand the argument I was making this week in relation to the Met Office forecasts of ash cloud dispersal ("The real danger to air passengers is not the ash cloud – it's these men", 26 May). In fact, he seems to agree with me by stressing the "difficulty" of predicting its movement, and noting that the forecasts are "probabilistic", not precise.
All known engine failures associated with volcanic ash have occurred within 600 miles of the active volcano. The British Airways aircraft in the 1982 incident was 100 miles away and encountered an ash density a thousand of times greater than the red zone on the Met Office forecasts.
The Met Office itself places a pretty clear health warning on the forecasts. It says they should be "used with caution as they are subject to a level of uncertainty relative to errors in the estimation of the eruption strength".
Our case has been that the authorities should not rely solely on uncertain forecasts in determining the red no-fly zones for aircraft. I am pleased that our arguments have been acknowledged by the authorities, and that the Met Office is now drawing on a broader range of input data to formulate its predictions. These changes have had the effect of significantly reducing the red zone areas.
None of this is new to British Airways. It has considerable experience of flying in volcanic regions around the world, such as Indonesia, the Caribbean and North America. Contrary to what your report suggests, we would always want the vicinity of an eruption to be a no-fly zone.
We treat aviation safety with the utmost seriousness every second of every day. The tone of your report is that volcanic ash issues are too difficult for us to understand. We use facts to make our decisions. It would be comforting if all commentators would do the same.
Willie Walsh, Chief Executive, International Airlines Group, Heathrow Airport
In a way, I can understand the posturing of Willie Walsh and Michael O'Leary over the latest ash cloud. After all, these men are charged with their shareholders with running profitable airlines, and their customers expect them to put on the flights they are contracted to provide.
However talented businessmen they may be, air safety experts or meteorologists they are not. Air safety is built on a cautious approach to problems, presuming something is unsafe until proven otherwise, because aircraft that run into problems in flight don't always get a second chance.
If the authorities acquiesce and declare ash-laden airspace open for business, this would allow airlines carte blanche to operate in it, whether it is truly safe or not. Engine maintenance contracts could be declared valid regardless of how much damage these sustained, because they were operating in approved airspace. If – perish the thought – an aircraft was lost, these airlines could fall back on "They told us it was safe to fly".
No, the authorities need to stand firm, and Messrs Walsh and O'Leary need to be told firmly that it is not their place to make air safety rules.
Des Senior, Great Amwell, Hertfordshire
I might feel happier at the idea of flying through an ash cloud with Ryanair and BA were I to be accompanied by Michael O'Leary or Willie Walsh.
Greg Kaser, Oxford
The presence of volcanic ash on my windows gives me the opportunity to use one of the rarer words in the Oxford English Dictionary – pneumonoultramicroscopicsili-covolcanokoniosis. Shouldn't the Government urge us to wear masks for protection against this potentially fatal lung disease?
Alan Lewis, Helensburgh, Argyll & Bute
Some 'springs' not so welcome
It is notable how the leaders in America, France and the UK seem selective in the "springs" that they think are good things.
After some hesitation, the Arab Spring in Egypt became a good thing, together with those in Libya and Tunisia. Incipient springs in Bahrain, Yemen or – heaven forefend – Saudi Arabia, seem to be not good things.
But what about the Spanish spring: will Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron get behind these demonstrations, having missed the opportunity to do so in Greece? The common factor seems to be high levels of unemployment and dissatisfaction with the preferred plan of moving money to rich people (bankers, hedge-fund managers, millionaire cabinet ministers) from poor people (everyone else).
David Partridge, Bridport, Dorset
"We will ... support those who seek freedom in the place of repression and those laying the building blocks of democracy," said President Obama and David Cameron. The peace-loving people of Zimbabwe who have suffered under the despot Mugabe can only dream of such support. The only desire of Zimbabweans who bravely stand up to Mugabe's thuggish regime is to see these ideals turn into reality.
Hasani Hasani, London SW2
Ireland loved the Queen
Never could I have imagined that I would have to take up my pen against my old hero Richard Ingrams, but his piece on Saturday was so wide of the mark that I feel I have no alternative ("Emptied streets give the lie to Anglo-Irish bonds", 21 May).
I write as an Irishman (albeit one of Scottish Presbyterian background) and can assure Richard that the lack of people on the streets during the Queen's visit to Ireland is in no way an indication of the feeling of the man who would be on the street. They were watching in pubs and homes all over the country, just as they were during the recent royal wedding, and not just watching, but enjoying every magic moment.
If Richard took the time to research the letters in the Irish Times in recent days he might feel that an apology to your Irish readers may be in order.
Unlike Richard, the man who would be on the street knows perfectly well that there are flat-earthers (mostly in Northern Ireland), who still do not accept that the rest of the world has moved on, and who would do anything to spoil the momentous occasion. Is he seriously suggesting that they should have had free rein?
Perhaps in addition to reading what was written by the Irish people it might have behoved him to look at television coverage of times when people did get to meet Her Majesty – witness the students at Trinity College or more spectactularly on the last day in Cork, when security was relaxed slightly and the Queen did meet the man in the street. Could there be any clearer indication that the greeting was heartfelt?
Ian Kavanagh, Dublin
William Oxenham, (letter, 20 May) showed ignorance of facts regarding Irish-British history. It's only a tiny minority of people here who would regard IRA bombings as anything but cruel, cowardly and criminal. Whenever a British soldier or civilian of either state was murdered common decency and humanity demanded that we recognised the sadness of that death and the grief inflicted on some father, mother, son or daughter.
If Irish people were a little rusty on the rubrics of royal etiquette I'm sure no offence was intended: we treated the Queen like the great human being that she is and if Mr Oxenham should ever come here he will be treated like a king. Moreover, the admiration and affection earned by the Queen and freely expressed by the people where security allowed it, may more than compensate for any inadvertent slight.
Jude O' Hara, Donabate, Co Dublin
Small island, long reach
Christina Patterson, commenting on President Obama's visit (25 May), is the latest in a long line of Independent columnists who refer to the UK as a "medium-sized country in Europe".
In fact in European terms the UK has a small area, one of the largest populations and biggest economies, and, arguably, the greatest cultural, diplomatic, commercial and military reach. On the world stage we are small in both population and area, but in the top 10 or top 20 by most other measures, of the 200-plus countries in the UN.
That does not make us a slightly bigger offshore Belgium – and might explain why the President of the United States was here and not in Brussels.
R S Foster, Sheffield
Dinner parties out of time
In Harriet Walker's article about the making of Graceland by Paul Simon, and the album's enduring appeal ("Soundtrack of our lives", 24 May), she quotes Tim Noakes, music editor of Dazed & Confused, who was seven in 1986.
"Most people's parents bought it to play at Eighties dinner parties while they talked about Live Aid and Tom Wolfe novels over vol-au-vents and glasses of Babycham."
Er, Mr Noakes is working for the right magazine! Vol-au-vents and Babycham in 1986? Out by one decade, if not two there, Mr Noakes. Nut roast, scallops or something cooked in the becoming-ever-more-popular microwave, washed down with beaujolais nouveau or a Belgian lager, would be more like it.
Jane Crossen, Knutsford, Cheshire
Hearkening to strange voices
Robin Hutt (letter, 24 May) questions the relevance of your reporting that the "apocalypse no" evangelical preacher Harold Camping uses hearing aids in both ears.
I though the point was an implication that this auditory enhancement may have enabled him to hear voices which were inaudible to those using only the conventional number.
But I did think that calling him an "evangelical", as if that were relevant to his delusional state, was an affront to those of that inclination.
Anthony Bramley-Harker, Watford, Hertfordshire
To keep reserved seats for bishops of the Church of England in Parliament is an unnecessary and unpopular compromise in return for House of Lords reform. They will be at a reduced number, from 26 to 12, but in a smaller chamber their proportion is actually increased. These unrepresentative and unelected men should no longer have the right to sit in our legislature on the basis of their position in the Church.
Naomi Phillips, British Humanist Association, London WC1
Matthew Norman is wrong to say that what enabled John Hemming "to loose a wrecking ball to the High Court" is the lack of a written constitution (Opinion, 25 May). On the contrary, he was able to do so with impunity because of the (written) provision of the Bill of Rights, 1689, that proceedings in Parliament are not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.
A C Bolger, Stoke-on-Trent
Stop right there
Susie Rushton (24 May) says "huge displays of stationary dominate the entrance" of Waterstones. This is slow-moving stock, I presume.
David Hasell, Thames Ditton, Surrey