Tom Arms’ World Review: Palestine, Trump, Morocco v Spain and China

At last a ceasefire. But not until acting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reduced Hamas’s rocket manufacturing capability to a pile of smouldering twisted metal and brick dust. Hamas had tried smuggling ground to air missiles into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. But they were too easily discovered and closed by the opposition. So they turned to Iranian expertise to develop a home-grown defence manufacturing industry. It worked. At the start of this latest spat, there were thousands of missiles launched from sites dotted around Gaza with ranges of between six and 120 miles. Netanyahu had to react quickly because of the ever-present threat that the conflict could rapidly escalate. Iran could join in from bases in Lebanon and Syria. The US would then be obliged to come to the aid of Israel. What would Russia do? How about Turkey? The Arab countries….? In fact, four rockets were fired from southern Lebanon, and they appear to have been a factor in Israel’s decision to cave into the growing international chorus for a ceasefire. But a military truce is only a tiny step towards resolving the underlying problems. That can only come with the implementation of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords and the implicit two-state solution. These were shelved in favour of Israeli hegemony by increasingly right-wing Likud governments which was emboldened most recently by the unquestioning support of Donald Trump. During this most recent clash Joe Biden has taken the traditional pro-Israeli line (“Israel has the right to defend itself”), but changing American demographics and a growing pro-Palestinian faction in the Democratic Party is shifting political parameters. It is also further polarising the parties with the Republicans embracing Trump’s sycophantic pro-Israeli position and the Democrats starting to question it.

The news that New York has moved their investigation of the Trump Organisation from a civil to a criminal case is no shock horror story. Falsely manipulating property values to obtain loans and tax breaks—as the Trump Organisation is alleged to have done—is fraud, which is a criminal offense. The bigger question is what effect will this have on the ex-president’s political future. It could go either way. True to form, Donald Trump was quick to brand the switch from the civil to criminal legal system as part of a Democrat-organised “witch hunt” which puts it alongside the Mueller Inquiry, double impeachment and election “Big Lie”. At last count 70% of Republicans believe him and the handful of Republican Congressmen and Senators prepared to oppose the ex-president are losing their jobs and being booed on the floor of the house by their party colleagues. But New York’s actions have moved the future of Donald Trump out of the political arena and into the courtroom. The fight now is not between Republicans and Democrats in Congress but between Trumpists and the independent judiciary, or Trump v. the constitution.

This week’s row over a UK/Australia free trade deal underscores the problems Britain faces in replacing EU markets. Before it joined the Common Market in 1973, British international trade was heavily based on post-imperial Commonwealth trade preferences. These—and the Commonwealth countries they supported– were abandoned when the responsibility for negotiating British trade deals was ceded to Brussels. Many of the Commonwealth countries were furious. One New Zealand diplomat prophetically told me at the time: “If things don’t work out with Europe don’t come crawling back to us. We don’t take kindly—and won’t forget– being kicked in the teeth by mother.” In the intervening half century they have formed new relationships. Mini-regional free trade zones have sprung up in the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia and Pacific. Some of them have negotiated trade deals with the EU’s much larger market from which Britain has voluntarily excluded itself. Many of them now have production rules and regulations which vary markedly from Britain. In short, a return to an imperial past will be difficult—it not impossible to achieve. And, if they are negotiated, don’t expect them to favour a Britain desperate for a deal.

The sudden appearance of 8,000 migrants in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta is an object lesson in the dangers of tit for tat diplomacy. It goes like this: On 23 April the Spanish government announced that the President of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front was in Spain for Covid-19 treatment. The Moroccan government immediately warned of “consequences.” These came eight days later on 31 April when Morocco extended sanctuary to Catalan rebel leader Carlos Puigdemont. The Moroccan ambassador was then summoned to the Spanish foreign ministry to be told of Spanish “disgust”. This was quickly followed by a record 8,000 mainly Moroccan economic migrants flooding across the border into Ceuta while Moroccan border guards stood aside. Of course, there is a bit more history involved. The root cause is disputed sovereignty of the former Spanish protectorate of the Western Sahara and the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The Western Sahara is claimed by both Morocco and the indigenous Sahrawai people who, since Spain departed in 1976, have been represented by the Polisario Front. Between 1976 and 1986, the phosphate-rich desert territory was a bitter battleground. The Moroccan government tilted the demographic and political balance by in its favour by marching hundreds of thousands of Moroccans into Western Sahara (The Green March). Out of the current population of about 550,000, roughly two-thirds are now loyal ethnic Moroccans. Since 1986 there has been a ceasefire and endless and fruitless negotiations. Ceuta and Melilla are different. They have been Spanish since the 16th century and Moroccan national pride wants them back. King Hassan II draws parallels to his country’s claims to Spanish claims for Gibraltar and charges Madrid with diplomatic hypocrisy.

Population growth is always a big topic in China. For a start there was the draconian one-child birth control policy from the 1970s until 2016. Some say it was a necessary evil as the Chinese population doubled from 500 million to 1 billion between 1949 and the introduction of the policy. Between 1976 and the introduction of the 2016 two-child policy it dropped to 40 percent growth. Now there is a set of different population-related problems. For a start, the middle classes have discovered the economic benefits of small families. Between 2016 and 2020 the number of new births has fallen 15 percent despite the relaxation of birth control restrictions. At the same time, the one-child years means that China now has one of the world’s oldest, non-working and expensive to support populations. It needs workers to produce income. Or, at least a new way of producing income. The fastest accepted route is to encourage immigration. Forget it. China allows only a limited number short-term residency permits of high-value workers, and attaining citizenship or long-term residency is a near impossibility. Only 452 foreign-born non-Ethnic Chinese have been granted Chinese citizenship since 1949. The Chinese, are to be blunt, racist. Another alternative being floated by Beijing is raising the retirement age. China has one of the lowest ages for drawing a state pension—60 for men, 55 for women and 50 for civil servants. This is not likely to be a popular move. Then there is the possibility of increasing productivity. China is investing heavily in Artificial Intelligence industries in order to increase per capita production levels. Its impressive 21st century growth rates are to date based on labour intensive manufacturing industries which are threatened by new factories in cheaper countries as well as internal labour shortages. It must automate production or develop more high-end, high-value service industries. Whatever measures the Communist Party adopts must be designed to continue to deliver the consumer benefits of a growing economy in order to distract the people from the absence of political rights.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopaedia of the Cold War” and “America Made in Britain". To subscribe to his email alerts on world affairs click here.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Gotta say it’s not just a line, that Israel is entitled to defend itself. If anyone thinks there is a solution here that involves Israel simply allowing rockets to land on its people, then they are not thinking about a solution but a bigger problem. This is not the way to peace.

  • Joe Otten 23rd May ’21 – 9:16am…………Gotta say it’s not just a line, that Israel is entitled to defend itself. If anyone thinks there is a solution here that involves Israel simply allowing rockets to land on its people, then they are not thinking about a solution but a bigger problem. This is not the way to peace……………

    As H.G. Wells’s artilleryman said, “Bows and arrows against the lightning!”

    The alternative is for Palestinians to do nothing and watch, year on year, as the Israeli government and courts use ever more repressive laws (Entry to Isael Law, Nation State Law, Admissions Committees Law, etc., etc.) to violently uproot people from their homes, erase Palestinian history and connection to the land and ensure that they will never be able return to their land and homes…

    The latest violence follows a historical pattern..use repressive laws/actions to force a violent response from Palestinians, use overwhelming military force to destroy any resistance, repeat…

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd May '21 - 11:52am

    “The alternative is for Palestinians to do nothing and watch, year on year, as the Israeli government and courts use ever more repressive laws”
    And build ever more illegal settlements on land which is supposed to be Palestinian.

  • David Evans 23rd May '21 - 1:43pm

    The biggest problem that arises from the latest round of conflict between is who has won and who has lost. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu claims victory and in Gaza Hamas does the same.

    The sad fact is that both are right. Benjamin Netanyahu has strengthened his position and is more likely to be able to stay in power. Hamas has successfully cast itself as the defenders of Palestinians.

    Of course the losers are the ordinary people of Gaza and those in Israel looking for a better way.

    Just as the Falklands War strengthened Thatcher, extremes thrive in times of conflict. The ‘Enemy Without’ is a more potent message than ‘The Problems Within.’ Only abject failure topples them. At least that didn’t happen in America last time.

  • Steve Trevethan 23rd May '21 - 5:28pm

    Might there be similarities between the situations in Israel/Palestine and Ireland?

  • @Joe Otten – Gotta say it’s not just a line, that Israel is entitled to defend itself. …

    Just what is the real world extent of Israel? I suggest the one that the Israeli government perceives involves the forceable taking of more lands from others that aren’t of the same persuasion; and thus Israel invites others to fire rockets at it…

    I think this last skirmish in a state of war that has existed for the last 73 years, has demonstrated that Israeli adherence to the “eye for and eye” doctrine has left it blind; just as Ghandi famously observed…

  • John Hall 24th May ’21 – 2:00pm………….Expats: Why are we reluctant to call the forced removal of one race in order to introduce people of another race just what it is: ethnic-cleansing…………

    John, we both know the answer to that question..

  • Steve Trevethan 24th May '21 - 4:13pm

    Might the Chinese have better anti-covid “rights” than we do?

  • John Marriott 24th May '21 - 5:55pm

    Don’t forget the two politicians arguably responsible for the eventual creation of the state of Israel, the former Tory PM, Arthur Balfour and the LIBERAL politician and eventual party leader, Herbert Samuel.

    Let’s also not forget the ‘politician’ (I use the word with some caution) whose recent decisions are arguably responsible for the present escalation, one Donald J Trump. The first two are long gone, the third is on his golf course practising for when a grateful US public welcomes him back for another four years of dystopian mayhem (unless they have the guts to arraign him first).

  • @ John Marriott And, don’t forget the role played by the then Prime Minister (and sometime Liberal), David Lloyd George.

    Some interesting archives were released about his role and attitudes by the National Archives at Kew in 2017…….(his evidence to the Palestine Commission in 1937).

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