The left cannot pretend that Israel is the only problem

Until Hamas renounces violence and stops arms smuggling, the problem will only get worse.

I do not know you, Mehdi, so I will not presume anything about you. I am saddened that you think to presume that I do not find the events a tragic, needless loss of life, just because I raise challenging political dilemmas. It is above all else a huge human tragedy. It was also clearly an absolute mistake by Israel that has caused it considerable diplomatic damage.

However, your approach is a manifestation of the problem, in that you seem unable to engage in a discussion about the serious policy and political problems relating to Israel that beset the international community. Serious dilemmas are faced by those that both want peace in the Middle East and also want to stop the suffering of innocents on all sides.

Given your presumption about me, you may be surprised to note that I think the arbitrary way that Israel appears to determine what foodstuffs enter Gaza is punitive, self-defeating and wrong. Furthermore, it detracts from the serious issues that I raised about the smuggling of arms, and the need to support Abu Mazen to ensure the peace process stands a chance. What is happening in Gaza is heartbreaking, but being a bleeding-heart liberal will not help resolve the wider issues.

What the people of Gaza need is for the international community to focus on the following: stop the smuggling of arms, get Hamas to renounce violence, and release Gilad Shalit. Then it will look as though we are not rewarding terror and keep the hope and chance of peace alive. This will in turn make reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah possible and then elections (which Hamas refuses to hold at present).

The best hope for Gaza is for Salam Fayyad to be able to extend his state-building programme there.

No matter how much you accuse me of not caring about human suffering, Mehdi, you can't get round these questions. Israel should answer the questions you raise about what is allowed into Gaza, but you have to acknowledge that the issue is not simple. There are enough good people in the US, UK, EU, PA and Israel that want to resolve this problem and have spent a very long time trying to sort it out. However, whatever Israel allows into Gaza, until Hamas renounces violence and stops arms smuggling, the problem will only get worse.

I feel it is equally shocking to hear someone on the left ignore the human rights abuses inflicted by Hamas, not least upon its own people. Even Amnesty International accepts Hamas is guilty of war crimes. Israel is guilty of many things, but we help no one, least of all the people of Gaza, by pretending that Israel is the sole problem.

Lorna Fitzsimons is chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.

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The Conservative-DUP deal is great news for the DUP, but bad news for Theresa May

The DUP has secured a 10 per cent increase in Northern Ireland's budget in return for propping up the Prime Minister.

Well, that’s that then. Theresa May has reached an accord with the Democratic Unionist Party to keep herself in office. Among the items: the triple lock on pensions will remain in place, and the winter fuel allowance will not be means-tested across the United Kingdom. In addition, the DUP have bagged an extra £1bn of spending for Northern Ireland, which will go on schools, hospitals and roads. That’s more than a five per cent increase in Northern Ireland’s budget, which in 2016-7 was just £9.8bn.

The most politically significant item will be the extension of the military covenant – the government’s agreement to look after veterans of war and their families – to Northern Ireland. Although the price tag is small, extending priority access to healthcare to veterans is particularly contentious in Northern Ireland, where they have served not just overseas but in Northern Ireland itself. Sensitivities about the role of the Armed Forces in the Troubles were why the Labour government of Tony Blair did not include Northern Ireland in the covenant in 2000, when elements of it were first codified.

It gives an opportunity for the SNP…

Gina Miller, whose court judgement successfully forced the government into holding a vote on triggering Article 50, has claimed that an increase in spending in Northern Ireland will automatically entail spending increases in Wales and Scotland thanks to the Barnett formula. This allocates funding for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland based on spending in England or on GB-wide schemes.

However, this is incorrect. The Barnett formula has no legal force, and, in any case, is calculated using England as a baseline. However, that won’t stop the SNP MPs making political hay with the issue, particularly as “the Vow” – the last minute promise by the three Unionist party leaders during the 2014 independence referendum – promised to codify the formula. They will argue this breaks the spirit, if not the letter of the vow. 

…and Welsh Labour

However, the SNP will have a direct opponent in Wales. The Welsh Labour party has long argued that the Barnett formula, devised in 1978, gives too little to Wales. They will take the accord with Northern Ireland as an opportunity to argue that the formula should be ripped up and renegotiated.

It risks toxifying the Tories further

The DUP’s socially conservative positions, though they put them on the same side as their voters, are anathema to many voters in England, Scotland and Wales. Although the DUP’s positions on abortion and equal marriage will not be brought to bear on rUK, the association could leave a bad taste in the mouth for voters considering a Conservative vote next time. Added to that, the bumper increase in spending in Northern Ireland will make it even harder to win support for continuing cuts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

All of which is moot if the Conservatives U-Turn on austerity

Of course, all of these problems will fade if the Conservatives further loosen their deficit target, as they did last year. Turning on the spending taps in England, Scotland and Wales is probably their last, best chance of turning around the grim political picture.

It’s a remarkable coup for Arlene Foster

The agreement, which ticks a number of boxes for the DUP, caps off an astonishing reversal of fortunes for the DUP’s leader, Arlene Foster. The significant increase in spending in Northern Ireland – equivalent to the budget of the entirety of the United Kingdom going up by £70bn over two years  – is only the biggest ticket item. The extension of the military covenant to Northern Ireland appeals to two longstanding aims of the DUP. The first is to end “Northern Ireland exceptionalism” wherever possible, and the second is the red meat to their voters in offering better treatment to veterans.

It feels like a lifetime ago when you remember that in March 2017, Foster was a weakened figure having led the DUP into its worst election result since the creation of the devolved assembly at Stormont.

The election result, in which the DUP took the lion’s share of Westminster seats in Northern Ireland, is part of that. But so too are the series of canny moves made by Foster in the aftermath of her March disappointment. By attending Martin McGuinness’s funeral and striking a more consensual note on some issues, she has helped shed some of the blame for the collapse of power-sharing, and proven herself to be a tricky negotiator.

Conservatives are hoping it will be plain sailing for them, and the DUP from now on should take note. 

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

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