Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 1st April 2002

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Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- Bush tells Israelis and Palestinians that "enough is enough" (5 April 2002)

- "The Empire Strikes Back" twenty years on (2 April 2002)

- Tory Right form group to counter 'liberalism' (2 April 2002)

- Brendan Comiskey, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ferns (Ireland), resigns at last (1 April 2002)

Bush tells Israelis and Palestinians that "enough is enough" (5 April 2002)

President Bush yesterday demanded an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and ordered his Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, to the region. There has been increasing international pressure for the United States to use its good offices to bring some sanity into the spiral toward open conflict of the past couple of weeks, Mr Bush used a White House Rose Garden speech to both condemn Chairman Arafat, the Palestinian leader, for having helped to foment terrorism and issuing a warning to Israel that a Palestinian state "needs to be politically stable and economically viable" and that "Israeli settlement activity in occupied territories must stop". It is the case that Mr Bush has criticised Mr Arafat harshly before, but it is new for him, a staunch and open supporter of Israel, to issue such a strong and uncompromising message to the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Ariel Sharon. He said: "I speak as a committed friend of Israel. I speak out of concern for its long-term security, the security that will come with a genuine peace."

Soon after his speech, it  was reported that a Palestinian spokesman declared that they accepted Mr Bush's comments "without any reservation", although Israeli spokespeople were much more circumspect in their remarks, saying that the Israeli Cabinet would require to study the speech closely. However, it became clear quickly that Israel had reversed its earlier decision to prevent Bush's Presidential Special Envoy, General Anthony Zinni, from meeting with Mr Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters, where he is effectively under house arrest by the Israeli military authorities.

It is recalled that a few days ago, envoys from the European Union were prevented from meeting with Chairman Arafat and whilst reports this morning indicate that Gen. Zinni has now visited Mr Arafat, Israeli military personnel are reported to have fired stun bullets at the press corps accompanying Gen. Zinni, to dissuade them from entering the Ramallah compound with him; this seems to me to be completely outrageous.

The 'moral high ground' is generally reckoned to be a piece of real estate that most would wish to occupy, and throughout its existence Israel has mostly been able to lay claim to this territory without enormous difficulty - the two major deviations were during the period 1982-1983 and the past few weeks? The common factor? Unfortunately it is the current Prime Minister of Israel - Ariel Sharon.

Israel is a noble state, a genuine bastion of democracy in a region sadly lacking in this type of government. It is time for the forces of sanity in Israel to regain their voice, and to ensure that the Palestinian officials who have expressed unreserved agreement with what Mr Bush has said are required to live up to their rhetoric.

"The Empire Strikes Back" twenty years on (2 April 2002)

Twenty years ago today, Argentina invaded the Falkland Isles, or as they would put it, they 'liberated' a part of Argentina, 'Las Islas Malvinas', from foreign rule. A few days later the "Empire" in question, the United Kingdom, decided to dispatch its armed forces to reverse the invasion - a mission that was successfully achieved on 14th June 1982.

The government of Argentina at the time, a military dictatorship, attempted to galvanise public opinion in Argentina and increase its own fragile popularity by embarking upon its Malvinas adventure, by exploiting the deeply-felt view of most Argentinians that what we call the Falkland Isles rightly belonged to Argentina. Most people in the United Kingdom, on the other hand, were only vaguely aware of the existence of the Falkland Isles and, until the invasion, I do not believe that most people cared very much what happened in  this far-flung remnant of what had once been the world's most extensive empire. Indeed, it seems clear that the British government, or more specifically the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had been discussing discreetly with the Argentinian authorities how best to accommodate both the Argentinian desire to take control of the islands with the desire of the British authorities not to be seen to be flouting the strong wish of the inhabitants to remain British in a territory under British sovereignty. Personally I have little doubt that these seemingly incompatible aims could have been satisfied, after a fashion, by a diplomatic 'fudge', even if it would probably still have required skilled diplomatic efforts to persuade the Falkland Islanders to accept it. One imagines that there were some British Foreign Office diplomats who were more than a little 'disgruntled' that the Argentinian invasion had spoiled the cosy plans they had been developing with their Argentinian counterparts.

Trying to look on the bright side, I think it is a fact that the ability of the British to mobilise a military task force so quickly and so effectively over such a great distance gave the British a renewed confidence in themselves, specially as any benefits to be gained in a material sense (oil resources, ready access to large fish stocks) would be realisable only in the far-distant future and they could tell themselves that they were acting not out of self-interest, but out of a desire to stop a few thousand people being 'bullied' by their closest and much more powerful neighbour. It also, I believe, enhanced Britain's reputation in many parts of the world where memories of its former imperial prowess were already becoming dimmed with time.

No less importantly, it hastened the transformation of Argentina from a military dictatorship into a broadly democratic country, albeit one with huge economic problems which have resurfaced dramatically once more in much more recent times.

What is the long-term future of the Falkland Isles? Who knows, but as the daughter of one Argentinian soldier who perished in the conflict said: "It's certainly not worth fighting over". I tend to agree.

Tory Right form group to counter 'liberalism' (2 April 2002)

Disaffected right-wing Conservatives are launching a protest group within the Party aimed at restoring what they claim are its traditional credentials. Some former members of the 'Monday Club' say they want to "establish a platform from which to attack the social-liberal tendency in the Tory party", epitomised by shadow cabinet members such as John Bercow, MP for Buckingham.

Michael Smith, a member of the Monday Club for 30 years, said: "We are on the Right of the party - anti-Europe, anti-political correctness, very pro the Royal Family. And we don't mind embarrassing the Tory party. When we voted for Iain Duncan Smith, we were assured he would be taking the Right-wing line, but he hasn't."

And, to cap it all, a spokesman for Conservative Central Office said: "We have no comment to make on this sort of politics."    WHY NOT? No condemnation? No expulsion from the Conservative Party? Is it perfectly acceptable for members of the Conservative Party to hold, and voice, such opinions? It says a lot, in my view, for the reality behind the words of people like Iain Duncan Smith and Oliver Letwin, that they are prepared to tolerate such outbursts and take no action to exclude such people from membership!

Under Mr Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative Party 'suspended' its links with the Monday Club, saying it had to prove its non-racist credentials. The party leadership said the organisation should amend its membership and constitution to avoid race and immigration issues or face permanent exclusion.  Long-standing members of the Monday Club, such as Mr Smith, were incensed. He said: "We don't like talk about inclusiveness. We don't mind Tories of any race or colour joining the Party but we strongly take exception to the pro-gay agenda. People can have a private life but it must remain private."

The media-spin by the Conservative Party that it was 'modernising' its views on certain social issues served merely to act as an [unsuccessful] cover for its opposition to the Civil Partnerships Bill second reading in the House of Lords recently. The "We have no comment to make..." response to queries about its attitude toward outbursts from people such as Michael Smith gives the lie, in my view, to the notion that the Conservative Party is anywhere near to abandoning the bigoted policies which far too many of its members hold.

No doubt this is the real reason why Duncan Smith and his cohorts cannot speak out against it; they have stark choices facing them - either they must disown such deplorable views, and expel people who hold them from the Party (and risk defections from many others who hold similar views), or they  must say as little as possible when such views are voiced, but by so doing condemn themselves to becoming an ever-dwindling Party of gerontocratic or pseudo-fascist less-elderly freaks.  They appear to have chosen the latter option.

My views are harsh, but I think entirely justified. (Read about correspondence I have had with Scottish Conservative Central Office in Edimburgh by clicking here.)

Brendan Comiskey, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ferns (Ireland), resigns at last (1 April 2002)

Further to my earlier report (The Sickness at the Heart of the Catholic Church ) it was announced today that the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey, has resigned. A priest in his diocese, Fr Sean Fortune, was alleged to have committed serial paedophile offences against youths and young men and was about to be tried for this when he committed suicide while released on bail.

In his resignation statement, Bishop Comiskey stated that he had tried to do his best to control Fr Fortune's activities, but that "quite obviously this was not enough"; the correct and only response should have been for Bishop Comiskey to call in the police authorities at once. His mistake was to try and cover up serious criminal offences by Fr Fortune and his attempts at self-justification really will not wash.  Nevertheless, and whatever credence one chooses to place on his statement, it seems clear to me that the recent documentary on the matter, shown as part of the 'Horizon' strand on BBC2, at the very least hastened his departure. A very welcome development, specially on Easter Monday. (NB/ This article has been amended on 2 April 2002.)

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Copyright © 2002 William Cameron