Palestinians must give peace a chance
FOR those Israeli settlers living in the Gaza Strip, this week's events have been momentous and despairing. After being told for the last 30 years that they could officially settle in mostly uninhabited land they are now being told they are being evicted from their homes with no place to go.
A cursory look at history will show many Jews living in harmony with the Bedouins of Gaza before the Palestinians chose violence as their default position.
Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, doesn't trust the Arabs. Why should he? In the 1920s and 30s Arab riots butchered Jews in the old British Protectorate of Palestine. In 1948, no sooner was Israel formed under a United Nations mandate than its Arab neighbours were invading its borders and making war. Their humiliation by a new nation did not stop them preparing to push the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea in 1967 - only to be spectacularly routed by the Israeli defence force in the six days war.
Since then Israel has made unilateral concessions in the hope of achieving a lasting peace with its neighbours. It returned the Sinai peninsula back to Egypt only for its neighbour to harbour terrorists who attacked its people.
It withdrew from Southern Lebanon, only to see the Syrians fill the vacuum, allowing border raids to start all over again. It agreed to the creation of the Palestinian Authority as a precursor to a Palestinian state only to witness the birth of the violent intafada by Hamas gunmen and homicidal bombers.
In the last five years the Israeli people have suffered 25,500 known terror attacks, including 6000 rockets just on Gaza's Gush Katif.
Now, instead of challenging the Palestinian perpetrators, Israel's government has decided to betray those it had put in the front line - the settlers.
"I've reached a deal with the Americans. I prefer a deal with the Americans to a deal with the Arabs," Sharon said last week.
Sharon's Gaza policy is essentially George Bush's policy. If the Palestinian President Abbas cannot now establish the rule of law in his anarchic, violent and corrupt society, if he cannot stop the shooting, the mortars or the bus bombings then there will be no further moves towards a Palestinian state. It's as simple as that.
It may work, but the difficulty is that many Palestinians have no interest in reaching a peaceful compromise.
For Hamas and its sympathisers in Fatah, Sharon's exit from Gaza is a sign of weakness that must be exploited with more attacks to force more concessions. For them terrorism has paid off.
So, the ball is now firmly in the court of the so-called Palestinian moderates.
The Palestinians have the choice that they can learn to live in peace with Israel or they can continue to try and push the Jews into the sea.
The former offers the hope of peace not only in Israel and Palestine but ultimately in the rest of greater Arabia. The latter offers continued poverty for so many Palestinians under the rule of terror by their own murdering extremists - and the likelihood of continued support for terrorism in many Muslim countries.
The Middle East is yet again at another crossroads and the next two months should tell us whether Abbas has chosen the route of peaceful coexistence or more bloody defeats for his people.
TAIWAN HALVES NUMBERS OF POLITICIANS . . NOW WHY DIDN'T WE THINK OF THAT AS WELL?
IT is not only in the Middle East where great change is taking place. I write this week's column as I return from a fact-finding visit to the Republic of China - or Taiwan as most of us call it. I shall write more about China in the future as it seems the Far East is also displaying signs of significant geopolitical change that will affect our lives in Britain.
For the moment let me tell readers that Taiwan's current government is doing something our political parties could learn from - it is cutting back on the number of politicians on the payroll.
In an effort to ensure better quality politicians, make them work harder and so restore faith in democracy, the government in Taiwan will reduce the number of legislators from 225 to 113. Now they're looking at how they can reduce the number of government structures. I like the sound of that.
This week Andrew Arbuckle, a Scottish Liberal Democrat politician, made the claim - no doubt popular but entirely erroneous - that being an MSP is a part-time job.
Firstly let me say, that with fewer responsibilities in Scotland than MSPs like the rather invisible Mr Arbuckle, Scottish MPs at Westminster must, by his logic, be on permanent vacation. Tell that to John Barrett. (And if you don't know who he is then Arbuckle may have a point).
More importantly, Arbuckle fails to note the prime reason he finds himself twiddling his thumbs is because the ruling parties (and not just Labour, but also his own Liberal Democrats) don't allow greater debating time to hold our rulers to account. I, and many like me, didn't ask for the laughable family-friendly hours, the futile debates or pointless question times.
Take a lesson from Taiwan. Reduce the number of our politicians, cut back on MSPs, MPs and superannuated Ministers, and allow us all to work harder for our money by kicking Arbuckle and his colleagues up the proverbial.
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