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Feedback | 13 November 2004

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Israel’s rejected offers

It is perhaps a bit unfair to single out Peter Oborne, because he is just one of many commentators to make the same error. He writes (Politics, 6 November) of the desirability of President Bush putting ‘renewed pressure on Israel to press forward for a settlement with Palestine’ — as though it was the Israelis who resisted reaching a settlement.

The truth is the very opposite. Whenever an Arab leader has shown a desire to negotiate peace, Israel has seized the opportunity. It has also been willing to give up land as the price for securing peace. When Anwar Sadat offered Israel peace, Israel gave up the territory it had conquered from Egypt, the Sinai. When Yasser Arafat finally agreed to recognise Israel and talk peace with it, Israel signed up to ceding land to the Palestinians as the price for peace. In 2000 at Camp David, Israel agreed to give up to the Palestinians the West Bank and Gaza — in other words, to hand over the entire occupied territories — and even to share sovereignty in Jerusalem. The Palestinians rejected this, to the astonishment of President Clinton, who understood that Israel was offering them everything the international community had demanded. The next step was where we are now: instead of agreeing to a peace settlement, Palestinian leaders (not just Hamas, but organisations controlled by Arafat’s Fatah) unleashed a campaign of bombings intended to murder and maim Israeli civilians.

Isn’t it about time the international community put pressure on the Palestinian leaders to reach a settlement with Israel?

Michael Grenfell

Edgware, Middlesex

Has Deborah Maccoby (Letters, 6 November) read the Hamas Charter and noted that Hamas will grant only five- or 50-year ‘ceasefires’ or ‘truces’ but has no intention of making a mutual peace?

The IRA never wished to dismantle England. Hamas and the Arab world wish to dismantle Israel and retake Spain, if not all Europe. Given that the UN decided that there should be an Israel as much as a Palestine, the problem of the Arab parties is that they still think they are in the Caliphate ruling the known world. Cut your losses, deal with Israel as an equal, resettle your refugees on your side of the border, and get on with the rest of your lives.

Frank Adam


Signs of a soul

Christopher Howse, in speculating whether Flores man had a soul (‘Do little people go to heaven?’, 6 November), chooses to dismiss Neanderthal men because they ‘did not have the spark of reason’. But whether or not they were closely related to us — something still fiercely debated — Neanderthalers were not nearly as far from our own humanity as people tend to think.

Their coarse appearance was not an indication that they were primitive, but that they had adapted to the bitterly harsh conditions they lived in, at the margins of the great glaciers — rather like the mammoth and the woolly rhino. Their brains, however, were at least as large as ours, sometimes larger. Their flint tools were as sophisticated as those of our more definite ancestors. They could no more develop a substantial material culture than the Inuit today; but nevertheless there is evidence of artistic or at least decorative appreciation. Above all, the reason we know so much about them is that they often buried their dead with reverence, in prepared graves. One such grave has been found that was touchingly filled with armfuls of bright cornflowers, perhaps an image of spring and rebirth. If there are any qualifications for a soul, surely that should count.

Michael Scott Rohan

Little Shelford, Cambridge

The lessons of Algeria

Alistair Horne’s interesting article ‘Roots of Terror’ (30 October) talks of the Algerian war acquiring ‘a new, sharper relevance’ in the context of Iraq. The difficulty, of course, is understanding exactly what the relevance is. Whatever one’s view of the current war, there are a number of significant differences between the two situations. The removal of a despotic leader had no equivalent in the French occupation of Algeria. Algeria was not just a colony but a department of metropolitan France with a large French population and a long history of French exploitation. The Algerian war can be seen as part of the general demise of European colonialism. Whereas Iraq...?

It serves, surely, as a good example of Mark Twain’s dictum that history does not repeat it itself; at best it sometimes rhymes.

Michael Sheahan

Paris, France

How foreign aid is wasted

The article by John Bercow advocating a Tory commitment to higher overseas aid spending (‘The Tories must help the poor’, 6 November) makes depressing reading.

Nobody disputes the need for humanitarian disaster relief. However, the fact is that foreign aid is a waste of time and money, unless it can be provided in the context of a reasonably stable, peaceful and law-abiding social environment. The rule of law and some semblance or hope of an orderly market, or something that might evolve into one, are a necessary precondition.

Before planting, the peasant farmer needs to be sure that his title to the land is secure, that the land will still be his when he harvests the crop. He needs to be confident that when he gets his product to market, some witless do-gooder has not undermined it by distributing free goods, or that the EU or the US has not wrecked it by dumping subsidised products. One has only to look at Zimbabwe — starvation in the former breadbasket of Africa — to see the effect of a collapse of the rule of law.

If we are serious about Third World poverty we must be prepared to face the real problems. Without this commitment the only predictable result of overseas aid is the self-satisfied smirk on the face of the donor.

George Gittos

St Briavels, Gloucestershire

John Bercow deserves praise for urging the Conservatives to set a timetable to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on aid to the developing world. It was under Edward Heath’s government in 1970 that Britain agreed in the UN General Assembly to establish this target. Economists say that each further $1 billion a year in UK aid can lift 400,000 people out of poverty. But Michael Howard should also pledge that if it is returned to power, his party would not attach conditions to aid, such as privatisation and trade liberalisation, which undermine its effectiveness. For example, the poor have gained little from the World Bank’s demand that in return for aid Tanzania had to privatise the water system in Dar es Salaam. Almost all of the investment will go to the areas where the richest fifth of the population live.

Romilly Greenhill

ActionAid, London N19

Regionalism rejected

Matthew Parris was not aware of the result of the vote in the North-East when he wrote his piece (‘Long live a stubbornly centralised England’, 6 November). We now know that, by an overwhelming majority, the voters have given John Prescott’s idea of regional assemblies the order of the boot. But be on your guard; these monstrosities already exist. In my area there is an unelected South-West Regional Assembly made up of officials, councillors, ‘community stakeholders’ and numerous committees. It covers Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Avon, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset. How anyone can conceive that this quango can do anything for the area that is not already covered by the existing local authorities, I fail to understand. Paying for all the supporting bureaucrats and the extraordinary expenses of the unelected members must be wasting untold amounts in extra taxation. Surely, after the vote in the North-East, the whole lot should be scrapped and Prescott put out to grass.

Brian Thornton

L ydney, Gloucestershire


Roger Köppel’s article (‘When did you last see your fatherland?’, 30 October) deserves a warm welcome. His thoughtful and thought-provoking comments need wide circulation. The German case in the ongoing debate on the future of the European Union has largely gone by default for reasons that Mr Köppel helpfully explains. Perhaps his initiative will encourage other authoritative German voices to join in. As he says, Germany cannot spend an eternity atoning for its history. It is time it summoned up its collective courage to stand up, publicly, for its views.

As one who fought in the last great conflict I feel entitled to invite our German friends to come in out of the cold.

Gareth Homfray-Davies

Var, France

A moment to savour

Spot on Charles Moore! (The Spectator’s Notes, 6 November.) Quite the most satisfying aspect of the Republican victory in the American presidential election is that it has confounded the predictions of so many media pundits.

It gives me a frisson of pleasure to see so many arrogant noses rubbed so firmly in the dirt: bearded, baseball-capped Michael Moore; the Pinters and their coterie of Bollinger bolsheviks inhabiting the leafy purlieus of London W8; the vast and vacuous army of pollsters with their swingometers in tow; most BBC political journalists. On the morning of 3 November, the whole monstrous Tower of Babel collapsed. These self-appointed experts will re-invent themselves, of course, but for once the voice of the people was heard and it was a moment to savour.

Robert Triggs

London NW3

Lives at risk

Dr Michael Wilks (Letters, 30 October) rightly states, ‘The legality of withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration, and the definition of artificial nutrition and hydration as medical treatment rather than basic care, are established under common law.’ But he then claims that the Mental Capacity Bill provides ‘a set of robust safeguards’ for incapacitated people. Far from safeguarding patients’ lives, new decision-makers are brought in who can order their death, including donees of ‘lasting power of attorney’ who may be going to inherit their property. Stroke victims who need some time for rehabilitation would be the patients most likely to be dehydrated or starved to death.

Mary Knowles

First Do No Harm,
Action group on euthanasia,
London SW3

Marathon monologue

Proust’s 937-word sentence (Letters, 6 November) is laconic compared with James Joyce’s effort at the end of Ulysses. Molly Bloom’s ‘stream of consciousness’ consists of some 22,000 words; moreover it contains not a single punctuation mark apart from the full stop after the final Yes.

James Young

London N1

Solar solutions

I was very interested to read your special supplement ‘The Nuclear Issue’ (30 October). In particular, the question of what to do with all that nuclear waste. Am I being naive to suggest it be simply packed into a rocket and directed towards the sun? Our nearest star is always described as one large nuclear reaction, and our tiny amounts of nuclear waste would be just a ‘drop in the ocean’.

Ronald N.C. Douglas