The Nether-World

March 28, 2007

Diplomacy, Dishmomacy

Filed under: israel, Palestine, US Politics — netherworld @ 7:51 am

It is no great secret that Condoleezza Rice isn’t exactly the most successful of diplomats – especially when it comes to trying to solve the torturous Israel/Palestine conflict. Her obvious bias towards Israel means that more often than not she returns empty-handed from her numerous jaunts to the region. Her latest escapade was no exception. The difference this time, however, is that now Condi is being rebuffed not just by the Palestinians, who she can’t seem to convince to recognise the state that is continually stealing their land, but also by the Israelis, who don’t seem to be able to accept any form of compromise.

An Israeli journalist I spoke to was dismissive as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left Jerusalem this morning.

“Diplomacy, dishmomacy,” were his actual words.

This was Ms Rice’s seventh visit to the region over the last few months.

A lot of talk, little to show for it, is the accepted wisdom amongst most Israelis and Palestinians.

Hmmm, not a very promising start is it? Worse still, Israel has refused Condi’s offer to act as a negotiator between it and the Palestinians in what The Daily Telegraph calls a humiliating snub.

Condoleezza Rice received a humiliating snub from Israel yesterday when it refused her offer to act as negotiator between its government and the Palestinian authorities.

The US secretary of state, who was attempting to start final status talks on the creation of a Palestinian state during a visit to Jerusalem, was forced to postpone a press conference planned on Monday evening after tense talks with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister.

Well if Israel won’t trust its best friend to conduct negotiations, it does beg the question: who will it trust? One thing Condoleezza did manage to take away from her visit is a commitment for Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert to meet once a fortnight to discuss security issues which may later lead to discussions about the formation of a Palestinian state. A positive development no doubt, but slim pickings for America which desperately needs a success story in the region to detract attention from its appalling failure in Iraq and to get support for its attack on Iran.

Needless to say, Arab leaders were less than impressed with Condoleezza’s appeal to them to ‘reach out to Israel‘. The idea here is that all the Arab countries recognise Israel and normalise relations with it without Israel being compelled to make any reciprocal moves. If she thought that was going to work then she really must be very naive to assume that Arabs would be so gullible as to fall for that trick. After all, Israel won’t even recognise the new unity government in Palestine. America on the other hand, seems at last to be realising that the unity government is at least a promising compromise and, though it won’t deal directly with it, is offering some support (to Abbas anyway). Perhaps this is the cause of the tension between Condi and Olmert.

All this diplomacy comes, of course, on the eve of an important summit among Arab leaders in Riyadh. The focus of this summit is to revive the peace plan proposed by the Saudis in 2002 in which all the 22 countries in the Arab League would recognise Israel and normalise relations with it in return for Israel withdrawing back to the borders it had prior to the 1967 war. This would make it possible for the formation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. When this plan was first proposed, it was immediately rejected by the then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The timing of the original proposal was unfortunate as the Palestinian second intifada was raging and suicide bombings were taking place in Israel. Also this was only a year after 9/11 and at the height of the build up to the Iraq war (Saddam Hussein was one of the Arab League members prepared to recognise Israel). Relations between Saudi Arabia and America had soured somewhat and the plan was seen as an attempt to improve things.

“I wanted to find a way to make clear to the Israeli people that the Arabs don’t reject or despise them,” Abdullah said at the time. “But the Arab people do reject what their leadership is now doing to the Palestinians, which is inhumane and oppressive. And I thought of this as a possible signal to the Israeli people.”

The political climate in the region now is just as tense (if not more so) but the dynamics are different. Iran is seen as the big threat now and powerful Sunni states like Saudi Arabia don’t wish to see Shia Iranian influence spread into Palestine. Israel and Saudi Arabia share this fear of Iran as does the USA, of course. It was Saudi Arabia which managed to broker the deal between Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government. Perhaps this is a good time to revive this five year-old peace plan. The big question of course is what will Israel’s reaction to it be? So far, Ehud Olmert’s response hasn’t been the outright rejection of his predecessor. He has said there are “positive elements” in it worth pursuing. But this is hardly the ringing endorsement needed to carry the plan forward. This is the sort of language we frequently hear from Ehud Olmert. Israel has reservations about withdrawing from all the illegally captured territory which would obviously mean dismantling the illegal settlements (even Shimon Peres, Israel’s deputy prime minister has said that the presence of Jewish settlers inside the West Bank city of Hebron has created an “unbearable situation“). It also objects to Arab East Jerusalem being part of a Palestinian state and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. In other words, the only part of the plan it likes is the recognition of Israel by the Arab states and normalisation of relations. But the problem isn’t going away and appeasing Israel’s territorial desires hasn’t eased the situation at all.

In the absence of any other workable plan, this one might be a reasonable starting point. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Saud al-Faisal has made it quite clear that this is the only way for Israel to have peace with its neighbours.

“What we have the power to do in the Arab world, we think we have done,” he said. “So now it is up to the other side because if you want peace, it is not enough for one side only to want it. Both sides must want it equally.”

[…]

“If Israel refuses, that means it doesn’t want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war,” he said.

[…]

“Other Arab countries have recognised Israel and what has that achieved?

“The largest Arab country, Egypt, recognised Israel and what was the result? Not one iota of change happened in the attitude of Israel towards peace.”

Well, quite! Getting Israel to accept this plan will be hard and we can expect that it will do everything it can to avoid making any concessions. In that respect, it is unlikely that the summit will produce anything tangible. But hopefully more people are realising that endlessly appeasing Israel hasn’t worked and still isn’t working and maybe it might be time to try something new – actually applying pressure to Israel. That can be done quite easily by cutting the the huge aid packages it gets from the USA (something that seems unlikely at the moment considering the power of AIPAC). There should be more than the one lone voice in the Knesset calling for a boycott of Israel. And with news that Israel is supplying tear gas to Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe and after by the way British diplomatic staff have been treated by the regime, that position might gain some support, after all Palestinians have to put up with far worse. Olmert’s position isn’t that strong.

Olmert currently commands what may be the lowest approval rating for any democratic leader in world history: a measly 2%. Mired in corruption scandals and about to face the verdict of a commission of inquiry into the debacle of last summer’s war in Lebanon, Olmert finds his premiership stalled and in a ditch. “He needs an initiative and this could be it,” says one Israeli government official of the Saudi plan.

The former head of Israeli military intelligence, Shlomo Gazit, wrote an open letter to the Saudi regime in which he suggested bypassing Olmert and appealing over his head to the Israeli people directly.

Follow the path taken by Anwar Sadat of Egypt 30 years ago, Gazit urged: come to Jerusalem and call for immediate negotiations. Public opinion will rally and “no government in Israel will be able to reject that kind of initiative,” he wrote.

As Jonathan Freedland says in the article, calling Israel’s bluff over its stated desire for peace might just be a good idea.

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March 24, 2007

Thi Iranian Crisis

Filed under: Iran, israel, UN — netherworld @ 10:15 pm

In previous reporting about the crisis with Iran, I mentioned that with all the naval power being used to by the West to pressure the regime, there was an increased possibility of an incident taking place that could escalate into something more serious. Sooner or later, the provocations and intimidations being used both rhetorically and physically were going to bear fruit. It looks like this is what is happening with the reports we are hearing of 15 British sailors being captured by Iran.

A degree of caution is needed in talking about this latest incident as we do not have all the facts yet. But already there are more than one way of looking at this story. We could just accept the majority of media reports that stress that the British sailors were *not* in Iranian waters and were captured as part of a planned effort by the Iranians in order to use them as bargaining chips in the nuclear issue negotiated at the UN Security Council (more on that shortly). Or we could be open to the possibility at least that the sailors either did accidentally ‘stray’ into Iranian waters and were legitimately arrested for it. There is also the possibility that the intentions of the sailors were more sinister. At the moment there is no way of knowing the truth and so it’s probably wise to reserve judgement for the moment and restrict ourselves to speculation.

On thing I think we can take for granted is that any ‘confessions‘ made by the sailors while in Iranian custody can be taken with a pinch of salt. Both Britain and Iran are claiming they have evidence that proves the sailors were where each side says they were (either in Iraqi or Iranian waters respectively). Until this evidence is examined and made public no real determination as to who is right can be made. The last time this happened, back in 2004, it seems that the British personnel were indeed in Iranian waters and though this story is being repeated in the media, the point that British military were not where they were supposed to be on that occasion is not being stressed.

There is another fact that we can take for granted. With British personnel in Iranian custody, it will be much easier to turn public opinion against Iran and justify any future attack on that country. In this respect this incident is a propaganda coup for those who want a conflict with Iran. And if Iran thought that capturing British sailors would help them in this respect then it may well have shot itself in the foot. So far the Iranians have been fairly competent in their diplomacy and military actions, so it seems a little strange that they would resort to such a clumsy tactic now unless they thought they were genuinely defending their territory. However, the provocations on the Iranian regime have escalated sharply over the last three years with the American neo-cons, and, of course, Israel salivating at the prospect of another war.

As well as the British and American naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, there is also the ‘surge’ of American troops in the region and the deployment of Patriot missile batteries. And, of course, the extreme provocation of Iran with the recent kidnap of Iranian diplomats or consular staff by the Americans. This alone may be seen by the Iranians as a justification for its actions.

We cannot detach this incident from the activities at the UN Security Council which has just unanimously passed a new resolution against Iran over its alleged (but unproven) nuclear weapons program. This resolution means a tougher sanctions regime on Iran and strangely, expresses the hope that it will lead to further negotiations. I’d argue that this resolution will have the opposite effect and negotiations will be more difficult to achieve, particularly when America is so reluctant to negotiate (or do anything which doesn’t meet with Israel’s approval). Some of the ambassadors at the UN tried to argue for a nuclear free Middle East but were unable to get their message articulated in concrete terms. It seems that the main powers do not want a nuclear free Middle East but instead one where there is a single nuclear armed power which can impose its will over its neighbours. For this reason the new resolution is unfair and one should question just what pressures were put on the countries that had reservations about this misuse of international law by the powerful. Iran was predictably unimpressed by the new sanctions but shows no inclination to bend to the will of America, Britain and Israel the UN. Before long Iran will feel compelled to use its biggest asset as a weapon – oil. If Iran decides that the world needs a reminder of how dependent it is on oil and cuts the flow of it through the Strait of Hormuz then prices will soar and war will be inevitable. Just to show how sensitive the oil market is, look what happened to oil prices when 15 British sailors were captured.

On the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, no one should need reminding of the the dangers of pre-emptively attacking an unpleasant regime.

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March 22, 2007

Tony Blair And Depleted Uranuim

Filed under: Bliar, Iraq — netherworld @ 7:59 pm

A petition on the Downing Street website which asked the Prime Minister to Ban the use of DU (depleted uranium) weapons in warfare, has now expired. Because I signed this petition, I received an e-mail with a link to the part of the site which has Tony Blair’s reasons for dismissing this petition (along with all the others). This is what he had to say:

The Government considers that the country’s Armed Forces deserve the very best equipment with which to protect themselves and to succeed in conflict. At present, the best anti-tank munition for the Army’s Challenger Main Battle tanks is the 120 mm anti-tank depleted uranium (DU) round. This round will remain part of our arsenal for the foreseeable future because the use of DU is legal and because its use does not present the health risks suggested by a very small minority of scientists.

DU is only weakly radioactive and this is agreed by independent expert groups. Many independent reports have been produced that consider the battlefield effects of using DU munitions. These are available on the World Wide Web and include work by the Royal Society, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). No widespread DU contamination sufficient to impact the health of the general population or deployed personnel has been found in environmental surveys and no traces of DU have been found in urine samples collected from several hundred UK veterans who have served in both Gulf conflicts and the Balkans. In short, contrary to popular belief there is no reliable scientific or medical evidence to link DU with ill-health or with birth defects.

Media reports of DU-induced cancers and birth defects in Iraq have not been substantiated with credible scientific evidence. Many other factors need to be considered as possible causes, for example, some scientists have blamed the former Iraqi Government’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens.

Really? I suppose you can draw that conclusion if you withhold research into the effects of DU.

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2001 said they posed only a small contamination risk.

But a senior UN scientist said research showing how depleted uranium could cause cancer was withheld.

Blair’s statement seems to have been largely lifted from the MOD website. The same website also states that the cleanup of DU contamination in Iraq is being left to the Iraqi government. So why would the US military make tape warning of the effects of depleted uranium and then not show it to troops? UK personnel in Iraq were issued with this Depleted Uranium information card by the MOD:

MOD Card:

“DU Information Card (introduced 03/03) F Med 1018

You have been deployed to a theatre where Depleted Uranium(DU) munitions have been used.

DU is a weakly radioactive heavy metal, which has the potential to cause ill health

You may have been exposed to dust containing DU during your deployment

Further Information

You are eligiable for a urine test to measure uranium.
If you wish to know more about having this test, you should consult your unit medical officer on return to your home base.
Your medical officer can provide information about the health effects of DU.
Information is also available on the MOD web site:

A useful resource on Depleted Uranium munitions an be found at the Campaign against Depleted Uranium. There you can find reports about the effects of DU and links to other sites on the subject.

Just as a reminder of what we are talking about, here is an old video about the effects of Depleted Uranium from the beginning of the Iraq War (warning, this video is highly emotive and has some very disturbing images).

The use of DU munitions, though not illegal under international law, does go against established principles of humanitarian law. Belgium has now banned uranium weapons, the first country to do so. This ban will affect US shipments of uranium ammunition and armour plate via the port of Antwerp. Obviously there is at the very least a question over the safety of the use of DU munitions which was reported on as far back as 2003 if not earlier. To dismiss the call for a ban on these weapons out of hand seems irresponsible in the extreme.

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March 14, 2007

Corrupt Rogue State To Renew Its Arsenal of WMD

Filed under: Bliar, Sleaze, UK Politics — netherworld @ 11:11 pm

A rogue state which has a reputation for corrupt arms dealing and which sells weapons to oppressive regimes run by despots as well as conducting illegal wars, has been found to be accelerating its program for developing more WMD. The rogue state has also been known to threaten some (but not all) states which also have programs (suspected or otherwise) for developing nuclear weapons. It tries to get around this hypocrisy by claiming that its WMD program is nothing of the sort but is instead an “Independent Nuclear Deterrent”. This Independent Nuclear Deterrent is neither independent nor a deterrent. It is, however, nuclear with the potential to kill 40 million people. It’s also very expensive for a country that is having to close hospitals and scrap pension plans.

Interestingly, the leading politicians of this rogue state once had rather different things to say about nuclear weapons than they are saying now.

  • Tony Blair: “Labour is the only party pledged to end the nuclear madness.” (1982)
  • Gordon Brown: The Trident programme is “unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound”. (1984)
  • Peter Hain: ‘The more direct action there is against nuclear weapons in Britain, the greater the freedom a Labour government will have to get rid of them.’ (1983)

And that was during the Cold War!

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March 11, 2007

Light Posting

Filed under: Bliar, Democracy, Media, Terrorism, Torture, UK Politics, US Politics — netherworld @ 11:33 am

Apologies for the scarcity of posts here of late. I’ve been a little busy with a few things, but hopefully ‘normal’ service will be resumed sometime soon. In the meantime, here are a couple of things I’ve been writing over at Blairwatch to keep you occupied.

Firstly, it seems that Tony Blair’s statement about him knowing nothing about Extraordinary Rendition and CIA black sites is a load of bollocks (yes, I thought that would surprise you). What seems to be emerging is that he is not only complicit in this programme but actively participating in it. We now learn that that America and Britain asked Poland to host a secret CIA gulag and Blair requested that the Polish Prime Minister to keep this secret from his government. Nice eh?

Secondly, tonight (March 11) the first part of Adam Curtis’ new three-part documentary, “The Trap – What Happened To Our Dream Of Freedom?” is being shown on BBC 2 at 21:00. This will be well worth watching. It is about freedom and how the concept of freedom seems to have changed since the Cold War and how that change came about. As Britain and America go around the world ‘liberating’ oppressed people, and as they try to ‘liberate’ us from the old bureaucracies of the past, they replace what was there before with a strange kind of freedom which bears little resemblance to the freedom we knew before. This series examines how this came to happen and looks at the mechanisms behind this paradox which is, in effect, the losing of our freedom in the name of freedom, replacing it with a new form of social control which entraps us all.

Adam Curtis has generously agreed to do an interview with Blairwatch next week and in order to prepare for it, I managed to get the first two installments of this three part series and I was blown away by what I saw. So I posted a synopsis of the first episode here for those who will be unable to catch the program. I’ll post a synopsis of the second episode once the first has been screened.

Lenin’s Tomb and Ten Percent have also posted stuff about it and from those sites I’ve found reviews of the documentary in The Guardian and Socialist Worker.

Back soon hopefully.

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March 6, 2007

David Hicks

Filed under: Afghanistan, John Reid, Terrorism, Torture — netherworld @ 10:15 pm

Many People may know who David Hicks is. He’s the Australian citizen who was arrested in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance five years ago and sold to the Americans who have incarcerated him in the Guantanamo Bay gulag where he has been ever since. He is accused of being an “enemy combatant” although he has not, until very recently, been charged with any crime, and after five years all the US government can come up with is ‘providing material support for terrorism‘ a charge that has been tailored to fit his actions and guarantee he will not get a fair trial.

Mr Hicks, whose mother is British, should be entitled to British citizenship and therefore some help from the British Government which did help secure the release of other British citizens. However, despite senior judges ordering the home secretary to grant Mr Hicks citizenship, the Home Secretary John Reid revoked it. Hicks has therefore been abandoned by both the British and Australian governments and left in Guantanamo where he has been abused and tortured. Abuse of the inmates at Guantanamo still continues despite denials and attempted cover-ups by US authorities.

David Hicks is appealing for help through his family, friends and supporters. The following video has more information. It is a speech by Michael Mori, Hicks’ defence attorney with other images added.

Further details can be found at Mask of Anarchy, Ten Percent and Fair Go For David. You can help David Hicks by spreading the word about this injustice.

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Sleaze In America – Sleaze In Britain

Filed under: Cash for Honours, Lord Levy, Nu Labour, Sleaze, US Politics — netherworld @ 7:22 pm

Two sleaze stories today, one from each side of the Atlantic. First, in the USA Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has been found guilty of obstruction of justice and perjury. When he is sentenced in June, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

He was accused of lying to the FBI and a grand jury over revelations about CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity.

Libby’s lawyer said they were “very disappointed” at the verdict, and would ask for a new trial, or would appeal.

Libby was found guilty on four out of five counts. He was acquitted on one count of lying to the FBI.

I haven’t blogged much about this case but the BBC has an at-a-glance article about the trial and also other links to the background of this story for those who are unfamiliar with it. In short, it concerns the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame whose husband, Joseph Wilson displeased the Bush administration by disputing Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material from Niger. The trial itself, however, is about the cover-up (isn’t it always?). More updates on this can be found at Firedoglake and Iain Dale has a report. too.

Over in Britain, the sleaze story is the on-going saga of the cash for peerages scandal. The story all week has concerned a document (not an e-mail apparently) and an injunction placed on the BBC to prevent them revealing who sent it, who it was for and what it was about. This was a request by the police. The injunction was partially lifted yesterday so it could be revealed who sent it to who but not much else. Today the whole injunction was lifted revealing what most observers suspected anyway, namely that this document was written by Ruth Turner to her boss Jonathan Powell and it concerned Lord Levy whose position is now looking more precarious than ever.

There has been much speculation as to whether it was Downing Street that leaked the details in order to prejudice any trial. This is, of course, vigorously denied. After calling his arrests and the police behaviour “theatrical”, Lord Levy is now demonstrating his own skills in theatrics as he denounced the “prejudiced and distorted view” of the cash-for-honours affair presented by leaks to the media and played to the gallery by appalling for public sympathy. It is possible that Ruth Turner was concerned that Lord Levy was asking her to alter her evidence, something Levy denies. If true this opens the way for charges of perverting the cause of justice (again, it’s the cover-up rather than the original crime). The Guardian defied the injunction and broke the story which has caused the row as to who is doing the leaking in this case. Lord Levy blames the police, and everyone else seem to be blaming Lord Levy or Downing Street.

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March 3, 2007

I Always Thought So

Filed under: Bliar — netherworld @ 6:26 am

blair.jpg

This picture (from the Guardian) of a young Tony Blair, taken when he was at Oxford University in the 1970s, tells us something about the Prime Minister that I’ve always suspected to be the case. I don’t think I’m the only one who suspected this, and his actions since becoming Prime Minister only confirm those suspicions. You can see the full photo here. Strange that this photo should come into the public domain just when the Ugly Rumours, Blair’s student band, are making a comeback.

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