Mehdi Hasan on Question Time, Israel and 9/11

An astonishing claim -- even by his standards -- from Richard Perle.

Last night's Question Time special on the aftermath of 9/11 featured the "Prince of Darkness", Richard Perle, ex-chairman of George W Bush's defence policy board and US neocon-in-chief.

Most of his remarks had me groaning but one, in particular, caught my attention. Israel, Perle claimed, wasn't in violation of international law. He said:

Find me the Security Council resolution that Israel has violated.

His astonishing, ahistorical claim was met by silence from host David Dimbleby, as well as his fellow panellists -- including the anti-war lefties Tariq Ali and Bonnie Greer.

Perle repeated the line a few seconds later:

Israel is not in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. It just isn't.

Er, yes it is -- and it was left to an audience member to mention UN Resolution 242, while the former foreign secretary David Miliband just mumbled something about settlements being "illegal under international law".

However, apologists for Israel's occupation often argue that the meaning of 242 is contested; that there is a dispute over the meaning and extent of "territories occupied".

Yet, according to Professor Stephen Zunes, even excluding 242, the state of Israel violated 32 security council resolutions between 1968 and 2002 -- a record for any UN member!

To take just one live example, how about UN Resolution 452, passed in 1979? It states

. . . the policy of Israel in establishing settlements in the occupied Arab territories has no legal validity and constitutes a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war of 12 August 1949

and

. . . calls upon the government and people of Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem.

Guess what? It still stands. And Perle knows it still stands. And he knows that Israel is still building settlements in defiance of it.

As for the link between Israeli crimes against the Palestinians and the al-Qaeda attacks on the twin towers, here's Robert Fisk's take:

But I'm drawn to Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan whose The Eleventh Day confronts what the west refused to face in the years that followed 9/11. "All the evidence . . . indicates that Palestine was the factor that united the conspirators -- at every level," they write. One of the organisers of the attack believed it would make Americans concentrate on "the atrocities that America is committing by supporting Israel". Palestine, the authors state, "was certainly the principal political grievance . . . driving the young Arabs (who had lived) in Hamburg".

The motivation for the attacks was "ducked" even by the official 9/11 report, say the authors. The commissioners had disagreed on this "issue" -- cliché code word for "problem" -- and its two most senior officials, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, were later to explain: "This was sensitive ground . . . Commissioners who argued that al-Qaeda was motivated by a religious ideology -- and not by opposition to American policies -- rejected mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . . . In their view, listing US support for Israel as a root cause of al-Qaeda's opposition to the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy." And there you have it.

So what happened? The commissioners, Summers and Swan state, "settled on vague language that circumvented the issue of motive". There's a hint in the official report -- but only in a footnote which, of course, few read. In other words, we still haven't told the truth about the crime which -- we are supposed to believe -- "changed the world for ever". Mind you, after watching Obama on his knees before Netanyahu last May, I'm really not surprised.


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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.