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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.