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.

Ellie Foreman-Peck for New Statesman
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How Rome's new mayor Virginia Raggi is leading a normality revolution

The first female Roman mayor has promised an end to posturing public figures.

The Ottavia area of Rome, on the northern periphery of the Italian capital, is a part of the city that tourists rarely visit. In a sense, this is the real Rome, with problems that are typical of the rot that most residents have to put up with every day. It is a jumble of decaying concrete eyesores from the 1950s and 1960s – the legacy of rapid economic development and Mafia corruption – surrounded by parks where drug deals go down, and piles of refuse that sit uncollected for days.

It was here that the young mother of a newborn baby – who after her marriage had resettled in the area from the middle-class Roman neighbourhood where she was raised – started to become interested in politics. Seven years later, Virginia Raggi has been elected as Rome’s first female mayor and, having just turned 38, its youngest mayor ever. She is a symbol of change in Italy after two years of rule by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, another young leader, which have left millions of Italians disenchanted. Her rise is a sign that the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, may be coming of age after years as a protest vehicle.

Raggi not only won the run-off on 19 June but did so by the biggest margin in the history of Roman mayoral elections, trouncing the candidate whom Renzi supported by a ratio of 67:33.

Her story begins far from the glamour of the Capitoline Hill, on the dreary streets of Ottavia, where she pushed her baby boy, Matteo, in his pram and was forced to weave in and out of traffic, walk along “non-existent” footpaths where cars were double- or triple-parked, and negotiate the perils of abandoned municipal parks. “Rage at seeing my splendid city reduced to an undignified state” is what pushed her into politics, she writes on her website. It was a path that led to her unlikely victory as mayor of Rome (a post equal in importance in Italy to the mayor of London in the UK and a launchpad for campaigns to become prime minister).

Raggi, who was a lawyer before she became a politician, grew up largely indifferent to politics. When she became a parent, she joined neighbourhood committees and volunteer groups and started to press for sustainable organic farming and decent public transport. In 2011, disillusioned by the centre left after years of voting for Renzi’s Democratic Party (she comes from a family of progressive intellectuals), Raggi joined the Five Star Movement, having been dragged to its meetings by her husband, a radio technician.

Her rise was rapid. She ran in 2013 as a Five Star candidate for Rome’s 48-member city council and picked up one of the movement’s three seats (she received 1,525 votes; her husband also ran but failed to make it on to the council, with only 132 votes). When the former Rome mayor Ignazio Marino, an ally of Renzi, resigned after an expenses scandal, Raggi – already the Five Star Movement’s spokesperson for Rome – stepped forward as a candidate in the party’s primaries.

She defeated four rivals in the online balloting in February. It is a startling tale in an age of unlikely political narratives, reflecting a global pandemic of dissatisfaction with mainstream politics. Italy’s Panorama magazine described her election, perhaps with a touch of hyperbole, as “a cultural revolution without precedent”.

There is a paradox at the heart of the upheaval that Raggi has caused. In Italy’s sordid and grimly entertaining political landscape – with its tales of the former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s “bunga bunga” parties, as well as Grillo’s clownish antics – the most surprising thing about the new mayor is that she seems normal. Raggi calls her campaign the “revolution of normality” – refreshing, perhaps, for Italians tired of posturing public figures. Inevitably the subject of Italian chatter for her fetching looks, Raggi comes across, above all, as serious, low-key, articulate and compassionate. She is selling policy over persona.

There have been shadows over her ascent. Her Rome law firm has past associations with Berlusconi’s long-time right-hand man Cesare Previti – a convicted criminal – and Raggi launched her legal career as an apprentice in Previti’s office. She has vehemently denounced whispers that she may be a double agent for Berlusconi’s centre-right party, Forza Italia.

Graver doubts arise from concerns that she may turn out to be a pawn of her anti-establishment party’s own establishment, in the form of Grillo. And because of the city’s Gordian knot of vested interests, being the mayor of Rome is in many ways a tougher job than being the prime minister of Italy. It has been a poisoned chalice for many an ambitious leader.

Yet the truth is that, even for Italians, Raggi remains a mystery – and that opens up intriguing possibilities. She may turn out to be a blank canvas on to which Romans, of both the left and the right, can project their hopes and frustrations. If she succeeds in steering her own course, however, she could position herself as a viable alternative to Renzi. Recent opinion polls indicate that the Five Star Movement may have edged past his Democrats and become Italy’s most popular party, with about 28 per cent of the nation’s support.

It is worth considering that Renzi rose to national prominence as the mayor of Florence – a city whose political significance pales in comparison with that of Rome – and went on to become prime minister. Could Raggi do the same?

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue