World Review by Tom Arms: The Middle East, Capitol Hill, Boris and Dominic

In today’s World Review, our foreign affairs correspondent, Tom Arms, looks at the outcome of the bloody battle between Israel and Palestinians. Should there be an inquiry into the attack on capitol Hill? Or should the matter be left to the law authorities. The police are also investigating the latest mass shooting in America just as Texas loosens gun control laws. Here in Britain, our conflicts have been political – Cummings, Boris and Hancock. And Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban is coming to Number 10. Will Boris challenge him on human rights?

Hamas has declared victory in its latest war with Israel. Victory? Some victory when its jerry-built rockets failed to penetrate Israel’s “Iron Dome” and 248 Palestinians died, including 66 women and children. Some 1,900 were wounded. Israeli casualties were one soldier and 12 civilians including two children. But despite the lopsided butcher’s bill, Hamas is insistent that they won. This is because their David is still standing after another onslaught from Goliath Israel. Hamas is playing the long game. In fact, they make the Chinese look like short-termists. They are betting on the rest of the world, especially the United States, eventually tiring of their blank cheque support for Israel. When that happens, they believe the Jewish homeland will crumble and the one-state solution will be achieved—a Palestinian state. The problem with their strategy is that it is a linear route. It fails to take into account the unplanned metaphorical political twists, turns, fallen trees, potholes and avalanches that bedevil political relationships.

It looks as if Senate Republicans will be able to block a congressional inquiry into the Capitol Hill Riots. But then why do we need such an inquiry in the first place? Congressional inquiries are by their very nature political and at this moment in American history they are more political than usual. What occurred on 6 January on Capitol Hill was a criminal act. The culprits may claim that they had a political purpose, but the tactics they employed in pursuit of that purpose were criminal. They destroyed property, assaulted police, were responsible for five deaths and 179 injuries, threatened to kill the Vice President and the Speaker of the House and conspired to overthrow the US constitution. These are all criminal undertakings. They should be handled by the criminal justice system. And they are. So far 498 people have been charged by the police and FBI in one of the largest investigations of its kind in American history. A significant proportion of those indicted will end up in front of a judge and jury where the evidence for and against them will be forensically examined—including possible links to Donald Trump and the Trump organisation. That is the proper forum for alleged criminals. Not before a panel of Congressmen and/or Senators who put partisan point scoring before the truth. For once the hypocritical flip flopping Senator Mitch McConnell is right, albeit for the wrong reason.

Another week. Another mass shooting in America. Actually, it is more than one mass shooting a week as 250 have died so far in incidents involving four or more victims (the definition in the US of a mass shooting), and we are not yet halfway through the year. The latest shooter was 57-year-old “sad, lonely and highly disgruntled” Samuel Cassidy who killed nine of his colleagues before turning the gun on himself. Simultaneously, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was preparing to sign into law a bill allowing Texans to carry handguns openly and/or concealed without the need for a permit, license or any vetting. Texas will become the 19th American state to allow permit-less carrying of handguns. Governor Abbott says Texans need the law to protect themselves and wants to make Texas a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State.” The state’s own police chiefs say that the new law will endanger citizens and the police paid to protect them. There is, however, one group that will still need a license—convicted felons. But then how will the gun salesperson know that the man or woman on the other side of the counter has spent time in jail? I suppose that they will just have to trust to the honesty of the rapists, murderers, bank robbers, fraudsters, muggers and burglars.

The British public are faced with a tough choice: Which liar do they believe? Should it be their floppy-haired prime minister Boris Johnson who took them out of the EU and is now leading a “world beating” vaccination programme; or should it be the PM’s former chief adviser, the Rasputin-like Dominic Cummins who was regarded as the evil power behind the throne before being ousted from 10 Downing Street in a palace coup led by Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symons. The choice was presented by Cummings in a seven-hour explosive no-holds barred testimony before a parliamentary committee in which he accused Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the government in general of being long-nosed Pinocchios whose incompetence in managing the coronavirus pandemic caused the deaths of tens of thousands. Both men have form in the mendacity stakes. Boris has lied to his wives, his readers, his editor and the voting public. He was one of the worst—possibly THE worst—British Foreign Secretary. He issued a continuous stream of lies about the NHS, Northern Ireland, trade deals, fishing rights and the eating of cake to win the Brexit vote. Dominic Cummings was the architect of those Brexit lies. The problem for Boris is that the public suspected their prime minister of mendacious incompetence before Cummings’s testimony. His former chief adviser has merely filled in a few gaps and confirmed the voters’ worst fears.

Britain continues to pay the diplomatic price for Brexit. This week Hungary’s populist right-wing, Euro-sceptic, anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban—who is also clamping down on freedom of the press, academia and independence of the judiciary—is receiving the red carpet treatment at 10 Downing Street. Under fierce pressure from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, Boris Johnson has promised to press Orban on his human rights abuses. But the fact is that actions speak louder than words. A welcome mat at Downing Street is good optics abroad and with voters back home. Orban needs the kudos. He is a year away from a general election and his voters are unhappy with the expulsion of his governing Fidesz Party from the European Parliament’s right-wing grouping, the European People’s Party. Neither do they like his support for Belarus, Russia and China or his attacks on Joe Biden. For his part, Boris needs support inside EU councils. Orban’s Euro-sceptism and support for Brexit makes him the logical starting point. He is also the leading figure in the four-nation Visegard group of Eastern Europe. His visit to Downing Street is in the role of the current president of the group. The problem is that by allying himself with the “illiberal” elements of the EU Boris Johnson is alienating Britain from the wealthier and more liberal countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor, author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain” and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems

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11 Comments

  • Barry Lofty 30th May '21 - 9:32am

    It is depressing scenario from around the world that Tom Arms describes, but one that continues year after year unfortunately, and shows no signs of any change in the immediate future.

  • Thank you Martin. As for the depression problem, I am afraid it is in the nature of the news beast, especially in what I am writing. I like to veer away from straight news reporting– that is done by others– and focus on the why and the consequences.

  • David ROGERS 31st May '21 - 7:40am

    Absolutely agree with Martin’s comment above. We rarely get such analysis of world issues in mainstream media, and I for one appreciate it, so long may Tom Arms continue to write these pieces!

  • David Foster 31st May '21 - 8:51am

    What Tom fails to mention is that Israel has also claimed victory. Their policy is equally flawed as Palestinian will never accept their second class status both within Israel and the Occupied Territories. The only solution is a negotiated just settlement but until Israel feels the pressure to do this and the outside world effectively does nothing the cycle of violence is doomed to continue

  • @TomArms “When that happens, they believe the Jewish homeland will crumble and the one-state solution will be achieved—a Palestinian state. ” This is a rather simplistic representation of Hamas’s position. Hamas leaders have shown every sign in recent years of being prepared to accept Israel’s existence in return for peace. After months of negotiation, they agreed with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank to play their part in elections to Palestinian legislative bodies and the Presidency this year. Those “bodies” have long accepted Israel’s right to exist. Netanyahu made every possible difficulty in the way of having fair elections, including allowing the police to break up election meetings in East Jerusalem, obstructing preparations for voting and refusing to allow EU election monitors. In response President Abbas postponed the elections indefinitely – many believe this was just an excuse because he feared losing power. Commentators in the region did not expect Hamas to be major winners from these elections. The elections badly need to take place as soon as possible, so that the Palestinians have credible leadership to take them into new peace negotiations.

  • The comparison between the UK and Hungary is apt. At least Hungary is in the EU. Without peer pressure from within the Union, a week opposition and a lack of a constitution we are in danger in outflanking it in the race to the bottom regarding human rights and totalitarism.

  • As to who ‘won’; as always it is Israel..

    When the dust settles, and foreign governments have finished wringing their hands, the Israeli government and the courts will continue their erosion of Palestinian rights..

    The next flare up will, inevitably, happen but, when it does, there will be fewer Palestinians on their farms and in east Jerusalem..

  • Jonathan Coulter 7th Jun '21 - 9:30am

    Hello Tom Arms, I generally have a high regard for your posts, but your bald statement about Israel having “won” in its contest with the Palestinians looks off the wall – unless you are talking tongue-in-cheek.

    When you present this as a contest between Israel and the Palestinians, you miss the point that the UK and other western powers are major players in this context, aiding and abetting the colonisation of Palestine ever since World War 1. This continues right up to the present day where, for example we see Lib Dem politicians jumping on an evidence-lite media bandwagon about “antisemitism in Labour” with a view to discredit a rival politician who (notwithstanding his shortcomings in other areas) took the plight of the Palestinians seriously, and Dominic Raab gives Israel a free hand to do as it likes “to defend itself” in the recent spar with Hamas. It would be more accurate to say that “we (the British) have won” by ensuring that our client state (Israel) is able to continue ethnically cleansing Palestine – as is happening on a day-to-day basis in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan districts of East Jerusalem.

    It is time we, the British people, recognised that this is not someone else’s conflict but that we are in it up to our necks.

  • Denis Mollison 7th Jun '21 - 11:02am

    @Tom, @Jonathan
    There has been quite a lot of media comment to the effect that the Palestinians won, in that there has been a significant shift of public opinion as a result of the recent violence; in particular wider recognition in the US that Israel’s regime is tantamount to apartheid.

  • Nobody wins in a war. Both sides lose…. one side more than the other.

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