Abbas will not attain peace until Israel limits its ambitions
Abbas will not attain peace until Israel limits its ambitions
Sir: Now that Mahmoud Abbas has inherited the bed of nails previously occupied by Yasser Arafat, what can he achieve that his predecessor could not? In my opinion, very little. The conflict at the heart of the Arabs' dispute with the West cannot be solved by a change of Palestinian leadership. The key is in the hands of the USA and anyone else who has influence over the Israelis.
It is unrealistic to suppose that a subject people such as the Palestinians are in a position to "negotiate" their way to freedom and an independent state; Sunday's elections were held at the discretion of the Israelis. There is only one thing that Israel requires of the Palestinians: an end to their resistance to military occupation. The self-sacrificial suicide bombing has obviously given pause to the Zionist aspiration of an Israel from the Jordan to the sea. The current demand by Ariel Sharon is that all resistance to military occupation must be abandoned as a precondition to "negotiation". In other words, he wants his cake before the party starts. Once the Palestinians are committed to non-resistance, they have nothing else to give and are entirely at the mercy of their conquerors.
It is time that the world community asserted itself, since America has proved incapable of doing so, in bringing Israel to limiting its territorial ambitions in the interest of peace. After all, the failure to do so has been the festering sore that has inflamed the Arab world for the past 37 years. Israel should be obliged to comply with UN resolutions 242 and 338, which it has chosen to ignore, with American complicity, since 1967. Once the Israelis are behind their original borders, then we can look forward to peace in the Middle East and a better relationship with the Islamic world.
Time for Blair to keep his word - and go
Sir: Tony Blair said he would resign if ever he became an electoral liability. With 31 per cent of the electorate saying they would definitely vote Labour if Gordon Brown were PM, as against 23 per cent who will if Tony Blair remains in office ("Labour would get massive boost if Brown were leader", 11 January), is it not time he kept his promise and resigned?
After all, it is not only Mr Brown but large sections of the electorate who now do not believe a word Mr Blair says.
Sir: I think we have all had enough of the childish saga which has continued since Blair first took leadership of the Labour Party.
Instead of constantly castigating Blair his backbenchers need to consider how they would feel in his position. He succeeded in getting the job as leader. They could have chosen Brown then but they favoured Blair because he looked like a winner. Once Blair was in position Brown acted like a spoilt child and has done ever since.
Brown has no right to assume that he can just step into Blair's shoes if he should stand aside. If Brown becomes leader what becomes of those who have supported Blair loyally all these years? We would be setting the scene for yet more party splits.
Blair's departure, when it happens, calls for a new face, not Brown's. He simply does not deserve the post having acted the way he has throughout Blair's leadership.
Sir: Leighton McKibbin (letter, 10 January) suggests that we should give Blair time to repair the damage caused by Margaret Thatcher. How exactly will Blair's strict adherence to Thatcherite policies reverse the damage that they have caused?
To cite one glaring example, the problem of MRSA is the result of privatising health service cleaning. Blair's government has no intention of bringing hospital cleaning back into the public sector. If 5,000 deaths can't change a New Labour (Old Thatcherite) policy then nothing can. Blair doesn't need time - he needs the sack.
Sir: "Tony Blair is the first Prime Minister to have used commercial flights for holidays," says the Labour Party chairman ("New claims over leadership force Brown to call for truce", 10 January). I suppose that it was Mike Yarwood rather than Harold Wilson whom I used to see on the regular helicopter to the Scilly Isles.
Sir: So Gordon Brown does not believe a word Tony Blair says any more. What took him so long? After the Ecclestone affair, the Mittal affair, the Hinduja affair, the Cheriegate affair and the WMD affair, some of us came to that conclusion a long time ago. My particular favourite is the one when he said, "I''m a pretty straight kind of guy."
Selby, North Yorkshire
Sir: Your legal affairs correspondent, writes that the "judgment in the House of Lords triggered a constitutional crisis when the judges ruled that the men's detention was in breach of human rights law". ("Revealed: flawed intelligence exposes the scandal of Belmarsh detainees", 6 January).
But there was no constitutional crisis - the Law Lords were simply following the law by declaring an incompatibility between section 23 of the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Law Lords have no power, under the Human Rights Act 1998, to strike out any UK law, and it is quite within the Government's legal rights to leave ATCSA unchanged.
There exists a widespread belief that the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. However, the terms of the 1998 Act to not achieve "incorporation" in any normal legal meaning of the word.
Section 3 of the Act states that our judges cannot rule that an action or law is illegal in the UK because it contravenes the ECHR. Rather, they are limited to being able, under section 4, to making a declaration that the action or law contravenes the ECHR.
Perhaps, if people were more informed about these issues they would begin campaigning to get the ECHR incorporated into UK law!
Standing by the US
Sir: Unlike Brian Hughes (letter, 4 January), I see no evidence in Clare Short's article of hatred for the present American administration. What I see in her article is a clear presentation of a problem that faces us in international relations: a strong tendency of US administrations (and in particular the present one) to consider themselves above the United Nations' system.
US administrations openly state that they are not bound by the rules of the UN system and that they should be able to substitute for the UN. This presents a particular problem for the UK, which considers that it has a "special relationship" with the USA. Many of our political class feel that the UK should "stand by the USA" even when it invades another country outside the rules laid down by the UN charter.
To set out these dilemmas is not being "anti-American" or "consumed with hatred for the US administration": it is pointing out how our attachment to the UN system sits uneasily with our belief in a "special relationship" with another nation that does not have the same attachment and dedication to the UN system.
Lost post offices
Sir: Internet retailers ought to take a close interest in the fate of high street post offices. Just as online sales, though still modest as a proportion of the total, are soaring, a big programme of post office closures is surely set to damage the trade.
I bought two pairs of shoes last week in an online sale. One pair has to go back as they are too small. My handy local sub-post office having closed shortly before Christmas, I have to walk 15 minutes to the Crown office (and I realise I am fortunate compared with others). Not being able to go before the weekend, I was very fed up to find it not even open on Saturday afternoon, let alone on Sundays.
The Government is supposed to favour the growth of e-commerce and my experience has been good, in terms of the efficiency of the retailers concerned. Yet the hassle of sending goods back because of the lack of post office services is going to put me off. The only winner I can see is beleaguered (but to me, still loved) Marks & Spencer, which should advertise its "unique selling point" of taking online goods back in its stores.
Baroness SARAH LUDFORD MEP
(Lib Dem, London)
Thanks to blasphemy
Sir: D J Taylor, in his comments on the Jerry Springer affair ("Why I'm happy to see Christians finally on the march", 10 January) would appear to be oblivious to the reasons why post-Enlightenment Christianity is indeed the "soft touch" that he so mournfully asserts it to be.
He forgets how we in Europe were once a stifled, theocratic, feudal, crusading society that not only burned books but people too, and it was blasphemy that set us free. The term "blasphemer" has been ennobled by the likes of Socrates, Galileo, Kazantzakis and Joyce. We should remember the great debt that society and democracy owe to heresy and blasphemy and implore our MPs to rid us at last from this long-outmoded blasphemy law.
Sir: Could David E Flavell (letter, 11 January) please tell me where he finds his BBC on the channel listings? The one he watches apparently gags Christians from saying what they really believe, whilst giving atheists free rein to say what they like, and is "hopelessly biased against Christianity".
Mine on the other hand continues to refuse non-believers access to a broadcasting slot on R4's Thought for the Day, cancelled the satirical Popetown after bullying from another set of Christians, insists on broadcasting the faux-pious Songs of Praise and pumps out ever-increasing torrents of religious propaganda on TV and radio, and on its web site.
Mr Flavell's BBC seems so much better than mine. Pray, which button do I press on the remote?
Methven, Perth and Kinross
Sir: David Flavell claims that an atheist would be upset by "a real Christian programme". I can assure him that this is not the case. Because we don't think it's real, atheists are in no fear of Mr Flavell's God, just as Mr Flavell does not fear being reincarnated as an insect.
The issue at hand has nothing to do with "real Christianity" versus blasphemy. Rather, it is about whether or not the viewing preferences of a small minority should dictate what other adult members of the community might wish to see. We are all licence-fee payers. The Corporation exists to serve us all. Long live free speech, including Mr Flavell's right to tell me I am "a sinner who needs to be saved".
Sir: I'd like to thank the thoughtful protester who handed me a leaflet as I emerged from White City station (opposite the BBC) on Saturday afternoon. Without his prompting I would have forgotten that Jerry Springer - The Opera was being televised and would have missed one of a most entertaining evening's viewing. Could I perhaps provide him and his cohorts with a list of my other interests so that they might alert me to future programmes?
I find it noteworthy that the same people do not protest against the showing of Jerry Springer - The Actual Show, surely if anything, more offensive and certainly exploitive.
Journey into the past
Sir: Jeremy Beadle's "10 Questions" (Magazine, 8 January) contains one important - at least to us - inaccuracy. The founder of the world's first travel agency was in fact Richard Cox, who started what is now Cox & Kings in 1758. It was not until 1841 - 83 years later - that Thomas Cook founded the company that bears his name.
ANTHONY B M GOOD
Cox & Kings Travel Ltd
Wootton Rivers, Wiltshire
Sir: Alexei Sayle ("No one chooses a car for the planet's benefit", 11 January) is only partly right when he says, "An electric car just transfers fuel consumption and pollution to the power station." First, it is difficult to overstate the benefits for air quality of zero emissions at the point of use. Second, while the point about power stations has some weight, it does also mean that anything done to improve their emissions (clean-burn technology, generation from renewables etc) will have immediate and universal benefits.
Too many warnings
Sir: Now I read that we must have a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean rim, another one for the North Atlantic in case of earthquakes off the Canaries and asteroid warning satellites in space. This route leads us to spend all our money on warnings for imaginable disasters when invariably it is the unimaginable ones that happen. In reality it is just as effective and much cheaper to accept that sometimes we are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sir: Now that the priorities of the shiny new Serious and Organised Crime Agency will be set by what the newspapers write (report, 10 January) I look forward to hearing the other hi-tech methods for targeting action against crime. I'm sure "a man I met down the pub" and "that bloke driving my taxi the other night" will be among the new techniques to be unveiled shortly.
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire