In my last two blogs, I addressed the situation in Syria. I remain very pleased that the House of Commons refused to encourage rapid military action. It is an irony that Obama was in such a hurry to launch a cruise missile attack that Cameron recalled parliament early; and when parliament refused to give authority, Obama suddenly found that his military advice was that the issue was not time-sensitive and therefore decided to consult Congress! The good effect of this delay is that there has been more focus on the terrible suffering of the people of Syria, and more clarity that a one-off military strike to punish the use of chemical weapons, makes no sense whatsoever, unless it is intended to degrade the military capacity of the regime so that the Civil War can go on for longer. More and more voices are calling for action to achieve a ceasefire, halt the arming of both sides and look for a political solution. All wars end with a political solution of one kind or another but there are some who are untroubled by the suffering of the people of Syria and think the best way forward at the moment is to prolong the Civil War.

I am afraid that part of the explanation of this mess is that Western policy is not focused on the people of Syria but is focused on the possibility of weakening Iran by deposing the Assad regime. It is a matter of record that Netanyahu has for a long time wanted a military attack on Iran to prevent what he claims is their program to develop weapons. (What an irony this is when Israelis has significant nuclear weaponry and has never signed the non-proliferation Treaty). And of course, Iran is supportive of the Syrian regime. Hezbollah is another Western target which in turn is close to Iran and Syria. There is no doubt that the Assad regime in Syria is brutal but Western motive is sadly not to help the people of Syria to achieve democracy and dignity but to overthrow the regime in order to weaken Iran and Hezbollah.

None of this means that no action should be taken about the use of chemical weapons. But as Obama has now said, this is not time sensitive so we should get to the bottom of what took place in who was responsible and make sure that they are made answerable for their war crimes.

The Wider Middle East

The consequence of the war on Iraq, the fear of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf dictatorships engendered by the Arab spring, and the civil war in Syria, has further destabilised the region in a most dangerous way. Ironically Iran was strengthened by the outcome of the war in Iraq, as the regime that came to power after the invasion was close to the Iranian regime. At the same time the peaceful risings that started in Tunisia in Jan 2011 calling for democracy and dignity, that quickly spread to Egypt’s, Yemen and Syria frightened the Saudis and the Gulf states. There have been 2 responses, one is to provide support to extremists salafist movements that have helped to divide progressive Muslim movements from secular and democratic forces; the other is to inflame a sectarian conflict ripping across the region between Sunni and Shia which is another example of the dangerous old game divide and rule.

On top of this, there are ridiculous US efforts to start “peace talks” between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The US and the EU claim that they support a two state solution. This would mean the Palestinians accepting a state that would control the lands conquered by Israel in 1967 – the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This was the compromise the Palestinians were willing to make 20 years ago in the Oslo peace accords which would have meant a Palestinian state on 20% of historical Palestine. Since then Israel has gobbled up more and more Palestinian land with its ever expanding settlement programs and has claimed control of East Jerusalem. Israel has also made it clear time and again that it will never agree to a sovereign Palestinian state no matter how tiny the territory on which it might be based. The record since the Oslo accords were signed shows complete Israeli bad faith. It is simply ridiculous to suggest that talks can produce a 2 state solution while Israel won’t even halt settlement expansion and is taking the very land that the Palestinian state is supposed to be based on whilst the talks are taking place. But in my view Israeli hubris and US incompetence and bias is leading inevitably to one state in historical Palestine that treats all of its people with full equality. What is required of us is another major international anti-apartheid campaign and that has begun with the growing strength of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.

It is deeply hypocritical of Obama, Cameron and the rest to demand action on the use of chemical weapons because it is a breach of international law when they will take no action as Israel continues to breach international law in its behaviour in the occupied territories. On this we have the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, the highest authority in the international system on international law, which makes absolutely clear that Israel is in grave breach of international law in the occupied territories. The US and the UK constantly denounce Russia for making impossible Security Council authorised military action against Syria when the US, almost always supported by the UK, constantly blocks any action whatsoever to try to restrain Israel’s breaches of international law in the occupied territories.

On the Oslo peace accords I recommend that everyone should look out for two documentary programmes on how the accords came to be agreed, made by the documentary historian Rawan al Dameen which will be aired on Al-Jazeera English on Tuesday and I think the following Tuesday, and will be repeated thereafter. And on the Internet there is also available her four-part series Al Nakba which tells the whole story of the Palestinian tragedy from the very beginning and the UK’s significant role in it.

Other issues

Insulation

The desperate situation in the Middle East tends to overwhelm all other questions but I would like to share my experience of a visit to Clacton on Sea. There is a neighbourhood by the coast of flimsy houses originally built as holiday chalets by Londoners who came to Clapton in the summer. They are now inhabited by low-income people and are very cold and expensive to heat. My friend Andy Sheldon from Ice Energy persuaded British Gas to let him insulate and provide heat pumps under their obligation to contribute to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Blocks of some kind of sponge material was glued across the outsiders of the houses and then a white pebble dash put on top, which made them look like cosy cottages and then they were supplied with air source heat pumps. And thus a lot of poor people will be much warmer this winter and their heating bills will be slashed. In addition a lot of local people got jobs. I wish we were doing similar things on a larger scale across the country.

Ed Miliband

I was asked by Prospect for an article on Labour Party prospects now the economy is picking up a bit. The reality of this technical end of recession is that a lot of people on low-income are unlikely to benefit at all, but the conventional wisdom is that the pickup will make the government more popular and reduce Labour’s chances. I have set out in brief my advice to Ed Miliband in this article. In summary, I think most people are pretty fed up with the present government but cannot hear Labour offering anything different. And yet there are different ways forward but it means Labour has to escape from the Blair legacy.

Interesting facts

  • By 2008 UK had more people in PR (47,800) than journalists (45,000) (FT 30th of July 2013, Brian Groom quoting Nick Davies in Flat Earth News
  • At the end of the year 2010, the share of Jews in the population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River was only 53% (Yuval Diskin, former Shin Bet Chief, July 13th Jerusalem Post)
  • UK bank assets are 492% of GDP. Government spending on quantitative easing is nearly £375 billion i.e. nearly a quarter of GDP (John Lanchester LRB)
  • Chinese per capita income was just 21% of the US in 2008 in purchasing parity terms, a comparable figure to Japan in 1951, Singapore in 1967 and South Korea in 1977 (FT July 30, 2013 Jamil Anderline quoting Justin Lin)
  • Harvard did not award doctoral degrees to women until 1963 (The History of Modern Psychology DP and SE Schultz 9th edition)
  • On November 14, 2008 Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation peaked at year over year rate of 89.7 sextillion percent–that’s roughly 9 followed by 22 zeros. At that rate, prices would double every 24.7 hours. This is still below Hungary’s July 1946 world record hyperinflation in which prices were doubling every 15 hours… (Prof Steve H Hanke, letters FT 21/8/13)
  • The Greek economy has shrunk by a fifth, wages have fallen by 50% and two thirds of the young are out of work (Susan Watkins LRB 29/8/13 commenting on the effects of the single currency)
  • One in 8 of the people living in the UK were born elsewhere (Radio 4 news 29 August 2013)
  • 57% of babies born in London are to mothers born abroad (London Evening Standard 29/30 August)
  • Billboard for Brighton and Hove Argus: “Council calls in counsellors to counsel councillors” (Brian Groom, Notebook FT 3/9/30)

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