Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Palestinian election

For what little my opinion is worth: I think the Hamas election victory could well become a step forward for peace in the Israel/Palestine dispute. I think Israel and the west will have no choice but to negotiate with the “Change and Reform” parliamentary party, and I think a new breed of Hamas politicians will have to distance themselves from terrorism and the core aim of the destruction of the Israeli state.

I am not about rewarding suicide bombers here, merely making a pragmatic prediction. Once Hamas has to govern, once it is responsible for tax collection, spending aid money and the day-to-day governmental grind of providing roads, water and schools – it is going to have a much harder job selling itself to its now (greatly enlarged) core constituency. Government involves compromise and the experience tends to soften radicals.

Hamas was not elected, it would seem, by a newly radicalised Palestine. It won as most oppositions do: because people were sick of the incumbents. These are not electors who will be impressed by renewing the insurgency against Israel: they want a functioning economy, basic services, and freedom of movement through Israeli managed checkpoints. Those will be the yardsticks of Hamas’ success or failure now: not its ability to cause bloodshed.

It will be in the new parliamentary Hamas members’ interests to clamp down on militarism or distance themselves from it. If they want international credibility and the aid money that goes with it, they’ll have to.

Further, Israel is still the occupying power throughout much Palestinian territory and is thus responsible for basic services. Getting the occupying power to fulfil its obligations means negotiating with Israel, which some Hamas leaders already do.

On the other side, if Israel wants security in its own borders, it has to solve the Palestinian question. And if it won’t negotiate with Hamas who will it negotiate with? Permanently closing the border and leaving the Palestinian economy to (further) stagnate and the Palestinians to starve isn’t a realistic option. Which means refusing to talk to terrorists isn’t an option: though it may be a tactic to try and wring concessions from Hamas about a strengthened cease-fire and modifying its charter goals.

A Hamas parliamentary wing, let alone a government, gives the international community significant leverage to hold the militants to account. The difficulty will, of course, be in how all players manage any splinters of Hamas who inevitably decide in coming months and years that the parliamentary wing are ‘sell-outs’ and go it alone.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cime of the day

An exercise of universal jurisdiction is where a State makes it a crime before their courts for anyone, anywhere to commit a certain act. With this in mind I found the following passage drily amusing:

"... in United Kingdom law universal jurisdiction is asserted in sections 47 and 51 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, in respect of the offence of knowingly causing a nuclear explosion without authorisation. The Rule of Law is a wonderous thing."

(See Vaughan Lowe's chapter on "Jurisdiction" in Evans (ed), International Law).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Clearly an act of stupidity"

One of the more bizarre local crimes to have been committed recently in Cambridge involves posting a hamster.

A couple of undergraduates living not that far from me decided to post a hamster in a bizarre act of revenge to a man who they claimed had threatened one of them. Apparently, after there had been complaints about a man loitering about their college (on one report kerb-crawling and abusing students) the pair had tailed a suspect home and become embroiled in an argument.

The reason given for such an idiosyncratic revenge:

"to cause confusion - I suppose to make him look after it".

That and they claim to have been "plastered" at the time.

The hamster, subsequently called "First Class", was saved from death by mail-sorting machine through the attentive intervention of a postman. The pair were found guilty of, and fined heavily for abandoning an animal in circumstances likely to cause suffering.

In a statement reproduced in student papers but not the mainstream media, the pair apologized but also made a comment about the the diligence of the RSPCA in securing their prosecution compared to the local police's activity to find the loitering man they blamed for their woes.

They also made a rather ill-judged comment about "society's priorities" and the number of lives that could be saved by a donation to Oxfam equivalent to the public costs incurred in their prosecution. Well quite. But hardly the kind of half-hearted expression of contrition likely to endear them to the general public, though certainly not crass enough to justify the subsequent (and cowardly) hate mail to one of their families.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Being foreign

I'd be the first to admit that Australian universities don't often do their peachy-fresh best by international students (especially given the cash they bring in) in terms of creating a smooth application process.

Indeed, now being a foreign student myself and subject to the varying whims and idiosyncrasies of Cambridge bureaucracies, I have some sympathy for the confusion and terror that can be engendered through the process of applying to study abroad.

I can even believe that there exist in parts of the world "education agents" to recommend universities to those wishing to study in Australia and who will, for a fee, guide them through the application process.

What a shame they may prove no more use in the application process than a bootful of old cheese.

From a friend working in foreign student admissions, I present the e-mail she wish she'd sent to one such agent:

"Dear Ms X,

Thank you for your utterly unnecessary letter regarding your client, Mr Y.

As I am sure you can appreciate, there are a very large number of students who choose not to complete their enrolment until the last minute. Nor is your assumption - specifically, that you are entitled to special treatment on the basis that you can operate a fax machine - unusual.

Your efforts are, however, made more unique by your timing, and I am gladdened to see that you take your responsibilities so seriously as to require urgent completed enrolments within hours of making payment. Such a keen work ethic is to be admired.

As a professional courtesy, may I take this opportunity to remind you that in the majority of efforts to increase efficiency, underlining doesn't work. This is true irrespective of how many times it is used. The same can be said of the use of an "urgent stamp". There is a well-established inverse relationship between how many times the stamp is used and how effective it is.

May I also suggest that in future, you carefully analyze where the important information is found on any given letter, and avoid marking that section with a stamp of any kind.

I would also recommend that you request from your employer that you be allowed to undertake further training in the basic functions of a fax machine. This will allow you to send each page of your faxes once, as opposed to sending the same page one hundred and fifty times.

Warm regards, etc"

Oh dear. Anyone else had their own work held hostage by the incompetence of others lately?

Friday, January 20, 2006


Sorry to have been absent a while. January ran away with me, and then became a downhill run to returning to Cambridge.

Some statistics (believe them or not!):

Total time spent in transit, door-to-door, from my parents house to my room in Cambridge: 34 hours.

Time spent hanging about at airports (Canberra, Sydney, Singapore, Heathrow), as opposed to flying: 7 hours.

Sleep gained on flight: 2 hours.

Number of movies watched: 5 ½ (Everything is Illuminated, The Corpse Bride, Must Like Dogs, The Constant Gardener, The Brothers Grimm and bits of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigilo).

Pages of international law material read on the flight: nil.

Number of sudoku (easy and medium only) attempted: 10

Number of sudoku completed: 9

Bus trip, Heathrow to Cambridge: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Time difference between Eastern Australia and the UK: 11 hours.

Average time spent in bed before waking up desperately confused: 2 hours.

Current half-time score: jet lag – 5; Doug – 2.

Fortunately I have a weekend to get myself together before I begin supervising undergrads again on Tuesday. Shame I need to read Pinochet (No 3) in that time as well …