Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Why only direct action can get the message through in London

From Saturday's edition of The Independent, we learn that "anarchist[s] and hardcore anti-capitalists" heading to London for the G20 summit have "promised to "storm" banks and target many of the luxury hotels where world leaders will stay." The Telegraph on Monday further elucidated that these same "hard-core anti-capitalist protesters" is planning "guerrilla-style" raids, "at some of London's most iconic buildings, including Canary Wharf and the BT Tower." The same articles, we hear the expected rhetoric from the police of how the protesters "will try to fight police in pitched battles," of "violent scenes" by "direct action blocs" and of the need to counter those "determined to evade traditional security arrangements."

BBC News further reported the claim, also with established precedent, from Met Commander Bob Broadhurst that the police's aim is to "facilitate lawful protest" which typically degenerates in confining protesters to a "special demonstration pen." The fact that protesters are herded into pens, and that police have previously used anti-terror legislation to "tackle" them tells us exactly how far their commitment to "facilitating lawful protest" really goes.

Further evidence of law enforcement attitudes towards the democratic right to protest can be seen in the aftermath of previous G20 summits. Melbourne Indymedia reported that "a group of 50 demonstrators were beaten and trampled by police during a peaceful anti-G20 protest inside the foyer of the Melbourne museum" during the Melbourne summit in 2006. The Australian socialist group Solidarity further tells us that there were "thirteen people arrested and charged with riot" as well as "another four people facing riot charges in the Children's Court" because "police are desperate to obtain convictions to justify their demonisation of the protest and their extraordinary use of police powers following the protest."

Similar scenes can be found across the globe - whether the source of the protest is the G20, the G8, Gaza, the murder of a teenager by police, or any other cause that draws mass anger and empathy. It is always reported that "protesters clash with police," but the simple fact is that more often than not it is the police who strike the first blow. Moving in on people who refuse to have their basic right to free assembly restricted to a specific area, who are too boisterous, or whom they simply don't like the look of, is all a part of the police commitment to "facilitating lawful protest."

But we should really be asking why, exactly, "lawful" protest needs to be "facilitated" in the first place. Is it, perhaps, because "lawful" protest allows itself to be confined to a "demonstration" pen, and invisible placard waving ultimately achieves nothing?

Given that the great mass movements for change have used "unlawful" methods - direct action, occupation, of buildings civil disobedience - and in doing so have succesfully brought about leaps forward in freedom and equality, I would guess the answer is yes. The state has a long history of opposing such movements, from the Suffragettes and the labour movement to Civil Rights, and it is only when forced by popular action that they relent the slightest concession of liberty.

The G20 summit is only happening in the first place because of the grave financial crisis we are facing. They are gathering not to find the best way to safeguard ordinary people from its worst effects, whatever their on-record rhetoric, but to prop up and revive the very capitalist institutions that wrought this mess in the first place.

Given the mass unrest that the situation has already caused, and the resultant rise in populist nationalism, it is long past time for rebellion and direct action against those who would repeat the cycle yet again.

UPDATE - 30/03/09

It seems that the police's commitment to "facilitate" protests is now beyond doubt. The Times today reveals that, in order to "deal with violent demonstrators" who are "likely to stir up trouble" by refusing to remain silent, hidden, and ineffectual, the Metropolitan police territorial support group who are "routinely armed with speedcuffs, extended batons and CS gas spray" will form the "centrepiece" of security arrangements. There will also be tasers available "should trouble break out."

That trouble should break out seems likely, in fact guaranteed, by police security arrangements, particularly their hostile and aggressive "centrepiece." But, of course, we must remember police assertions that their role is to keep the peace. That protest groups have reported on how "police had contacted them to warn that a day of protest in the City on Wednesday would be “very violent”" demonstrates exactly how detatched rhetoric is from reality.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The hypocrisy of the BNP emerges in the North West

In less than a week, two stories have emerged that aptly demonstrate the hypocrisy and double standards of the British National Party. Both events occurred in the North West, where party leader Nick Griffin is standing as a candidate for the European Parliament.

The first of these events was a hammer attack, alleged to have been committed by members of Unite Against Fascism, against Liverpool BNP's "super activist" Tony Ward. The incident involved Ward's "campaign trailer overturned" and Ward himself "attacked with a claw hammer," according to Sky News.

There are problems with the media reports of the incident, as they rely solely on the accounts of BNP members, and there are discrepancies in their stories. Party spokesman Dave Jones, according to the Sky News report, said that "fundraiser was due to take place at Pure nightclub in Leigh, but was cancelled at the last minute." In fact, the BNP website made a point of declaring that the fundraiser was responsible for "raising an amazing £2,200 for the Euro election fund despite a violent attack on BNP members elsewhere" because in fact "the evening itself went off without a hitch" to the point where it gathered a "standing room only crowd of well over one hundred people." Though a relatively minor point, when taken with the fact that there have been no neutral or even opposition eyewitness reports available, it does put the BNP's version of events in doubt.

The hypocrisy, though, emerged with the BNP's response to the incident. On the party's website, Nick Griffin asserts that "the systematic campaign of intimidation and violence against lawful and peaceful BNP election campaigners" is "openly supported and encouraged by senior Labour and Tory MPs" because they have failed to condemn the attack. Under the heading of "by their silence they incite the violence," Griffin "challenged these MPs to condemn unequivocally last night’s attack and all other instances of violence and intimidation carried out by UAF thugs."

And yet, a little over a month ago, members of Wirral BNP distributed leaflets which accused anti-fascist Alec McFadden of betraying British workers for his role in an anti-BNP demostration at the end of January. The leaflet suggested that McFadden "needs coaching in a certain direction" and urged readers to "voice your opinion" over the telephone or "pop around" to his house, and gave out his phone number and address to encourage this behaviour. Not only was there silence from the BNP leadership over the issue, but the blog of the Liverpool BNP actually defended this action, printing the inciting leaflet in full whilst insisting that accusations of political intimidation were "fibs."

Though, of course, an unprovoked attack on anybody with a hammer - if indeed it was unprovoked - is unconscionable, so too are the double standards elicited in the BNP's condemnation. If, "by their silence they incite the violence," then surely the same applies to the BNP.

The second demonstration of BNP double standards came just the next day. This was the day that the BNP had planned to hold a significant "Day of Action" in Liverpool City Centre. However, because the event clashed with an Everton v Stoke football match, and the increased risk that presented of Stoke fans joining the BNP rally, since Stoke has a significant number of BNP councillors, the police postponed the football until the next day. The resulting uproar forced the BNP to cancel their rally and saw the match returned to its original slot.

Instead, the party went to Huyton to distribute leaflets before heading to the nearby St John's estate, where teenager Anthony Walker was murdered three-and-a-half years ago.

There, according to the BNP website, party leader Nick Griffin "stood up for the indigenous people of St Johns who have wrongly been demonised as a result of the Anthony Walker murder last year." Griffin recorded a video there, in which he "explained how the highly regrettable and sad murder of Mr Walker has been portrayed by the media and the establishment as a “racist attack” in order to smear the people of St Johns." According to him, "the truth is that the Anthony Walker murder was just one of a series of unpleasant incidents on the estate, which has a number of problems - but racism is not one of them."

Setting aside the fact that the party's website cannot even get basic facts, right such as how long ago the murder took place, the video remains full of utterly false insinuations. "Ask anyone here, and you will see that it was not racist at all," Griffin insists, but the evidence upheld in a court of law has a very different ring to it. During the trial of Anthony Walker's killers, The Liverpool Echo reported the evidence presented to the jury that Anthony "was subjected to a catalogue of sickening racist abuse in the last moments of his life."
Liverpool Crown Court heard that the 18-year-old refused to react as he was called "nigger" and "coon", shortly before an axe was plunged into his head.
The devout Christian had been walking to a bus stop with his white girlfriend, Louise Thompson, 17, and his cousin Marcus Binns, 18, on July 29 when the taunts began.
Neil Flewitt, QC, prosecuting, said after they had been at the bus stop for about five minutes, the abuse got worse.
He said Marcus, who at the time had a distinctive Afro hairstyle, recalls one of them calling him "microphone head" and "Michael Jackson".
Mr Flewitt told the jury of seven women and five men: "Anthony Walker shouted back: 'We're only waiting for a bus and then we're going.'
"Marcus Binns made no response to the abuse.
"Neither Anthony Walker nor Marcus Binns showed any aggression to the lad shouting the abuse or his friends.
"The lad then shouted, 'Walk, nigger, walk.'
"Sensing trouble, Anthony Walker and his friends started to walk to the next bus stop further down St John's Road towards Huyton village."
So far, this is just typical BNP misinformation and spin. The hypocrisy comes when we consider that the party's most recent pamphlet is "Racism Cuts Both Ways," which actually has been using glaring falsehoods to imply racism, in their case against whites, where there is none. Hope not Hate has a whole website dedicated to the showing this up as a bald lie. For clarity, it is worth once again pointing out one such example of this deception;
Mark WetherallMark Wetherall, 47, was killed in March 2007, five weeks after he was attacked by a gang in Whitstable, Kent. According to the BNP he was killed by an "18-year-old black youth Curtis Delima".
Three people were convicted of Wetherall's murder - Curtis Delima, 19, Mark Elliott, 21, and Gerry Cusden, 16. There was no evidence of any racial motive. More importantly, according to the photos of the three on the BBC website, none were black!
These are just the latest examples of the British National Party's use of misinformation and double standards to promote their white nationalist agenda. It is worth remembering that the man at the centre of both instances of hypocrisy - Nick Griffin - is not only the leader of that party, but a candidate to become an MEP in June.

Once again, I would strongly urge anybody who isn't already registered to vote to do so (you can do this via the Electoral Comission's website), and to make sure that they use their vote on the 4th June to keep the BNP out of the North West.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Pricing out the poor in times of recession

BBC News reports that "many universities in England and Wales want a sharp increase in tuition fees" to "levels of between £4,000 and £20,000 per year." According to the report, a survey caried out by the BBC showed that "three out of four" university Vice-Chancellors "believed fees had not deterred applications from students from poorer families" and that "one in 10 wanted the cap scrapped altogether so universities could charge whatever they wanted."

The government, too, has weighed in on the debate. Former education secretary Charles Clarke insisted that the government "won the argument overwhelmingly" on fees, though he did concede that "in the recession there will be a lot of resistance to thinking the fee level should be significantly raised." Certainly, that resistance has already appeared with force. The National Union of Students has argued that we will see "debts of £32,000 for students if fees rise to £7,000 per year," and their president Wes Streeting was unequivocal in his opposition to this;
In the context of the current recession, it is extremely arrogant for university vice chancellors to be fantasising about charging their students even higher fees and plunging them into over £32,000 of debt.

This UUK report assumes that higher fees are inevitable, and that the shambolic current system of student support will remain in place.
The report he refers to is one published by Universities UK which "hat if fees reached £7,000 a market of differently priced courses would emerge" and which, according to The Telegraph, "did not represent the organisation's official stance" but was "likely to pile pressure on ministers to consider a fee rise."

Such a move should be eagerly resisted. Not only is it inappropriate in a time of recession to increase the debt of students, it also risks the UK's higher education resembling that of the US. There, the vast majority of students lack the financial means to get into higher education and can only attend by way of scholarships and studet loans, and the mean cost of higher education totals $42780 (£30448).

Already, the NUS has signed an Early Day Motion, to be tabled in parliament, which urges that the NUS "must be fully involved in this review" of university and student finance, and that " the review must recognise that unmanageable levels of debt are bad for both the borrower and the lender, act as a barrier to wider participation in higher education and should be avoided wherever possible." Further to which, Streeting has called on the NUS website for a "critical mass" to mobilise against the fees as "the arrogance of vice chancellors and the supine response of spineless politicians in the Labour and Tory parties must not go unchallenged."

I would suggest that students go even further than that. Students form a vital part of any radical movement, and they will be neither the first nor the last to suffer in this recession as politicians cling on to the ideals of big money and the "free market," and so they need not only to send a message but also to set a significant precedent for others ready to stand up against the government's disregard for ordinary people.

In February, according to Indymedia London, Goldsmith college students "occupied the Deptford town hall building in the centre of the campus" and "a banner embalzoned "OCCUPATION"" was "hung on the front of the building." This is the kind of example students concerned about rising fees need to follow. The government demonstrated, in the wake of the original protests over top-up fees, its disregard for the voice of conventional protest. In order to get them to pay attention, something a lot more radical is needed.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Freedom of speech must be absolute

There has been something of an uproar in the press in the last couple of days over the actions of Muslim anti-war protesters. The protest by British Muslims took place during a homecoming parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment in Watford, and the reaction has been nothing short of outrage. The Daily Mail reported that the families of soldiers killed in Iraq "reacted with fury" after preacher Anjam Choudary "taunted them over the deaths of their loved ones." The Daily Express told us that Choudary "likened the soldiers to Nazis and branded Tuesday’s homecoming a “vile parade of brutal murderers”" in a "sickening rant." Whilst The Sun referred to the protesters, who unleashed "a tirade of abuse," as "hate-filled." The public uproar over the event has matched that voiced by the media, as was perhaps the intention.

Certainly, the protesters were misguided in their target. The soldiers, "heroes" and "our boys" in the emotive language of the tabloids, are not the ones at fault for the quagmire in Afghanistan. Not all are blameless, of course, as the Nuremberg Trials established just how far the defence of "just following orders" can be taken, and there are certainly western war crimes in the region for which those who committed them need to be held accountable. It must also be noted that applying the epithet of "hero" to everyone who dons military uniform, not to mention the accompanying hero-worship of the media, is at best unhelpful where issues of morality and wrongdoing during war are concerned. That said, it is certainly ludicrous to paint all serving soldiers as "butchers" as these protesters did.

Having said that, and objecting as I do to both the protest itself and to the views of both Choudary and his mentor Omar Bakri Mohammed, I stand resolutely behind their right to hold such protests and to air such views. What follows is Choudary's full statement on the parade and the protest on the Islam4UK website he runs;

Pathetic and cowardly British soldiers pompously marched through Luton to demonstrate their skill at murdering and torturing thousands of innocent Muslim men, women and children over a 24-month period.
Astonishingly, hundreds from the Luton community too felt it necessary to maintain this vile parade by upholding banners of support and shocking slogans of praise for these brutal murderers.
In light of this, a sincere demonstration was organised by Muslims from the local community to highlight the British state-sponsored terrorism that is currently ensuing in the lands of Afghanistan and Iraq, and how the return of active soldiers on such battlefronts should be marked with severe condemnation as opposed to welcoming rapture.
Non-Muslims in Britain must appreciate that the actions of the British soldiers must be condemned unreservedly; they are not heroes but closer to cowards who cannot fight, as their uncanny knack for death by "friendly fire" illustrates.
They are terrorists, and cannot be excused for simply "carrying out their duty", which incidentally (and vividly) was also used by Nazi soldiers in Germany to justify their notorious and bloody campaigns in the early 20th century.
These views, not unreasonably, have offended many of those they reached, particularly those with relatives either serving in the army or killed in the line of fire. But censorship will not make them go away. His words are a clarion call to the thousands of British Muslims who, also not unreasonably, fell disenfranchised with British society and the actions of the British government. Censored and outlawed, they gain far more potency and have far more resonance amongst a community that feels sidelined by the ruling class. As I have previously argued, censorship is utterly counter-productive if our aim is to destroy extremist views of any stripe.

What we need, instead, is an open and honest debate about the serious and very real grievances that make people more open to such views. Muslims, and indeed a much wider cross-section of British society, is angry with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the situation the west is allowing to forment in Palestine, and with the increasing curbs on freedoms at home - particularly, at present, aimed at Muslims - in the name of the "War on Terror." And they have every right to be. The correct response is not to censor the Islamists who use these very real issues to "radicalise" people and recruit them to their cause, but to make sure that those affected have someone to speak out for them without having to turn towards extremism. We must put freedom of speech into practice.

The increasing disaffection of Muslims and their turn towards extremism is not the only problem that needs to be addressed here, however. The narrowness of debate and the extreme readiness to advocate suppression of speech when discussing this issue has highlighted a serious deficit in our democracy. Commentators, such as Ross Kemp and Andy McNab in The Sun, rail against the very right of these people to protest whilst simultaneously asserting that "
wouldn’t have the right to demonstrate if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of solders" without the slightest hint of irony. This outstanding demonstration of DoubleThink is apparent across all mainstream comment: our "freedom of speech," apparently only extant due to the "heroic" actions of "our boys," is something we must "cherish," but if you "disgrace the nation" by not demonstrating absolute support for the armed wing of the state then you are a "traitor" who must not be allowed to voice your "repugnant" views.

The problem, of course, is that - as with all extremist opinions - there are reasonable points within the "vile" rhetoric that deserve addressing. One such point is that the rights and freedoms we do enjoy in the UK are not because of "the sacrifices of soldiers" serving the state, but because of ordinary citizens standing up against the state and snatching these basic rights. The right to organise, women's suffrage, the vote, civil rights, freedom of speech, and the other freedoms we enjoy do not exist because the state generously deigned to give us them, nor because of the armed forces, but because of grassroots struggles by ordinary, non-military people at home. But in saying this, by the media and ruling class's definition of freedom of speech, I am "creating division" and "supporting terrorists." Ishtiaq Alamgir, leader of the Luton branch of Al-Muhajiroun, declared after the protests that you are "either with Islam and Al Qaeda, or with the enemy." In the opposite direction, this totalitarian standard is one that our government and the media can clearly agree with

The existence of such a standard, permitting freedom only for those with views acceptable to the mainstream, sets a dangerous precedent. If this is a democracy, then the absolute right to protest anything and to say anything - even if it is offensive, ignorant, or wrong - should be a basic, universal benchmark. If it is not, then we cannot claim to be living in a democracy or to have freedom of speech.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Let Them Work

The Refugee Council, working in partnership with several other charities, trade unions, and refugee groups, has been running a campaign called Let Them Work. The purpose of this campaign is to get the British government to allow asylum seekers in the UK to work. As both a trade unionist and an advocate for greater rights for the world's most vulnerable people, I support this campaign wholeheartedly. This issue is but one reason amongst many why our asylum system is an inhumane disgrace, but it is a significant reason, as the right to work is one of the most fundamental rights that the trade union movement has fought for around the world.

That is why I would like to draw attention to the campaign here, and to urge all those reading this to pledge their support for it;

Let Them Work

Let Them Work banner
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work while they wait for a decision on their claim. Nor are they allowed to work if they are not able to return home. The Refugee Council believes this is wrong.
If asylum seekers were able to work it would:

  • Combat destitution
  • Benefit the economy
  • Benefit communities
  • Help integration
  • Re-skill refugees to offer them a better future

Together with the TUC, STAR (Student Action for Refugees) and a host of other organisations, the Refugee Council is calling on the government to let asylum seekers work. YOU CAN HELP.
Let Them Work - take action now Take action now:
Sign the campaign pledge
Write to your MP
Download campaign resources
Sign up as an organisation
Find local campaign groups

Let Them Work - background

Asylum seekers come to the UK in search of protection, not a job. But while they are here they want to work, they want to contribute.Let Them Work logo
Employment is one of the best ways for a person who has suffered a traumatic upheaval to start the process of rebuilding their life. A paid job brings a sense of self respect and dignity; it is a way of meeting people and making friends; and it gives a person some control over their life.
Employment also benefits wider society. It means people are able to support themselves, instead of needing to be supported by the taxpayer. It also contributes to cohesive and functional communities.
Just.Fair badgeThe majority of asylum seekers have skills and a high level of education. Many are qualified nurses, teachers and academics. Others have been employed as journalists and civil servants in their home countries. They are working people – and many of them are trade unionists, who got into trouble with the authorities because they stood up for worker’s rights.
They are forced to survive on hand outs that leave them in poverty, or they are denied support altogether and end up destitute.
It is inhumane to treat people in this way, and it makes no economic sense.

Why asylum seekers should be allowed to work - FAQs

Who is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is person who has left their country of origin, has applied for recognition as a refugee in another country, and is awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. It is a universal right to protection from persecution that we all enjoy.

What is the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee?

A refugee is someone who, following their claim for asylum in the UK, has been recognised as needing protection under Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Refugees have permission to work and full rights to employment and training.

How many asylum seekers are there in the UK?

In 2007, the number of applications for asylum in the UK was 27,905. This is much lower than in 2000 but there are people who are still waiting for a decision on their asylum claim after several years. There are also many people who have had their claims refused but have been unable to return because it is still unsafe.

Why aren’t asylum seekers allowed to work?

The Government changed its mind in 2002. Before this date, asylum seekers could apply for permission to work after six months. The Government argued that asylum needs to be kept separate from economic migration. They also believe that allowing asylum seekers to work will make the UK a more attractive place to claim asylum.

Does this apply to all asylum seekers?

A majority of asylum seekers are prevented from working. A few may have permission to work from before 2002 as their cases are still undecided. Since February 2005, a European Directive has allowed asylum seekers to apply for work permission if they are still waiting for an initial decision from the Home Office after 12 months. However, this only applies to a small number of asylum seekers and is no guarantee of getting permission to work.

Why do asylum seekers come to the UK?

The main reason is for protection. Asylum seekers have faced torture, imprisonment, rape and other forms of violence. Some will have been targeted by the authorities because of their trade union work. Although asylum seekers do not come to the UK for work, a majority would much prefer to work and not live on benefits. A majority of asylum seekers were working or studying before being forced to leave their countries.

How do asylum seekers manage to live?

The Government provides limited support to asylum seekers who are destitute. Most people arrive in the UK with very little as a result of having to flee their country. Government asylum support is only 70% of income support; accommodation is often in the most economically disadvantaged areas of towns and cities. For those whose asylum claims are finally refused, there is nothing other than voucher support equivalent to £35 per week. Most are asked to agree to return voluntary in order to qualify for this amount, regardless of whether it is safe to do so.

Are asylum seekers allowed to study or do training?

Asylum seekers can study as home students in further education, including learning English, if they are still claiming asylum after six months. But there are limits if the course requires permission to work. Most asylum seekers wanting to study at university are unable to do so because they have to pay international student fees.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

An evasive peace

Making his first trip to Gaza since taking on the role of international Middle East envoy, Tony Blair spoke of "a recognition that we have got to change our strategy towards Gaza," The Guardian reports, and has "urged Israel to lift its economic blockade of the strip." His remarks upon the situation there, in the wake of the recent invasion by Israel, were quoted in full by Haaretz;
We should learn from what happened in the past few weeks and make sure that in the future our strategy toward Gaza is different from the one we have pursued until now, because it hasn't worked, and we need to change it.
Whilst the words themselves are not particularly remarkable, reflecting as they do the international consensus beyond Washington, Whitehall, and Tel Aviv, they are significant in the fact that they come from a leading western statesman. Blair's thoughts reflect a shift, however slight, in the consensus of the dominant powers on the region.

Britain's international developnment secretary, Douglas Alexander, has pleged another £30m in aid to the Palestinians, taking the total since the invasion to £47m. The United States, quite remarkably, has gone even further, pledging $900m to reconstruction in Gaza according to The New York Times. Echoing Blair, meanwhile, secretary of state Hilary Clinton has promised to pursue peace between Israelis and Palestinians on "many fronts" and to "vigorously" seek a two-state solution. She has insisted that "we take inspiration from" the Arab Peace Initiative, and been blasted by the Israel lobby for her words.

There has also been growing optimism about the appointment of George Mitchell, who had a primary role in securing peace in Northern Ireland, as special envoy to the region. His stance, condemning violence by both the IRA and by Britain and recognition of the legitimate grievances fuelling the conflict, is one badly needed towards Israel, where the dominant superpower has accorded its client with unilateral and near-unconditional support, aid, and protection.

Other factors also appear to justify optimism for the future of the region. The most significant is the agreement between Palestinian factions, as al Jazeera reports, "to establish five committees to address key issues for unity" after talks brokered by Egypt in Cairo. Also relevant is the fact that the International Criminal Court is "exploring ways to prosecute Israeli commanders over alleged war crimes in Gaza," according to The Times, including "the use of deadly white phosphorus" on civilians. Though the case faces problems due to both Israel's status as a "nonsignatory" of the ICC and due to "the legal black hole that Palestinians find themselves in while they remain stateless,"a positive outcome could "lead to snowballing international recognition of a Palestinian state by countries eager to see Israel prosecuted," an important development.

However, we should of course not be blinded by these developments into over-optimism or taking an uncritical stance towards the involved parties. In Hilary Clinton's speech, it is vital to note that the Obama administration retains the uncompromising stance of its predecessors towards Hamas. She spoke of how they "have worked with the Palestinian Authority," meaning the Fatah administration of Mahmoud Abbas, whose term ran out on the 9th January, "to install safeguards that will ensure our funding is only used where and for whom it is intended and does not end up in the wrong hands," which are of course those of Hamas, the democratically elected government of Gaza. Though it is without question that Hamas "exploit the suffering of innocent people," one must also acknowledge that "the cycle of rejection and resistance" Clinton speaks of is a reaction to genuine crimes and injustice by Israel, with the tacit support of the US.

If, indeed, the Obama administration is serious about "tak[ing] inspiration from" the Arab Peace Initiative, then it must recognise the Initiative's full implications. Writing on the new administrations stance on Israel-Palestine in January, Noam Chomsky pointed out that, "unlike the two rejectionist states, Hamas has called for a two-state settlement in terms of the international consensus: publicly, repeatedly, explicitly." It is, in fact, the United States and Israel which have rejected the very conditions they place upon Hamas. "In international isolation, they bar a two-state settlement including a Palestinian state; they of course do not renounce violence; and they reject the quartet's central proposal, the "road map." Israel formally accepted it, but with 14 reservations that effectively eliminate its contents (tacitly backed by the US)." Thus, by their own standards, "neither the US nor Israel is a 'genuine party to peace.'"

Also important is Clinton's omission in her speech of the closure of West Bank crossings or to illegal Jewish settlements there, two issues that must be addressed in negotiating any meaningful and lasting peace. This omission was also prevalent in Obama's words on the matter back in January, a fact which Chomsky was quick to pick up on;
The most significant acts to undermine a peaceful settlement are the daily US-backed actions in the occupied territories, all recognized to be criminal: taking over valuable land and resources and constructing what the leading architect of the plan, Ariel Sharon, called "Bantustans" for Palestinians -- an unfair comparison because the Bantustans were far more viable than the fragments left to Palestinians under Sharon's conception, now being realized. But the US and Israel even continue to oppose a political settlement in words, most recently in December 2008, when the US and Israel (and a few Pacific islands) voted against a UN resolution supporting "the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination" (passed 173 to 5, US-Israel opposed, with evasive pretexts).
Obama had not one word to say about the settlement and infrastructure developments in the West Bank, and the complex measures to control Palestinian existence, designed to undermine the prospects for a peaceful two-state settlement. His silence is a grim refutation of his oratorical flourishes about how "I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living side by side in peace and security."
The conclusion remains an apt one. I do not think that the two-state solution is a lost-cause, and I certainly do not think we should give up on the plight of the Palestinians, but at the same time it is clear that whilst recent events do represent something of a refreshing change of pace in the politics of the Middle East, they are still very far from a unanimous declaration of peace.