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What Cherie really thinks...

(The Telegraph  19/06/2002)

During Hillary Clinton's years as First Lady, it was often said that she was "one bright remark away from trouble". Hitherto, barring a few bumps, Cherie Blair has largely avoided falling into that trap.

She has managed ably to juggle elements of the role of traditional prime ministerial spouse with the professional commitments of a thoroughly modern woman.

Yesterday, however, she undid all those years of self-restraint in spectacular fashion. She told reporters at a charity appeal for Medical Aid for Palestinians: "As long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress."

And she said this just hours after a Hamas suicide bomber had blown up a bus packed full of Israelis, including schoolchildren, killing 19. It is not surprising that by the end of the day an apology had been issued on her behalf.

Before eventually apologising more fully, Number 10 had said that Mrs Blair was not seeking to justify the suicide attacks in any way and that hers was merely a statement of the obvious. This is untrue.

Mrs Blair did not preface her remarks with a loud condemnation, after the fashion of the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. And, pace Number 10's assertion that this was a charitable and not a political event, requiring no clearance of her remarks with officials beforehand, nobody in the Middle East or elsewhere will take that seriously.

She could have expressed human sympathy for the Palestinians' plight in a hundred different ways without treading on such dangerous terrain. What is Mrs Blair's constitutional role in foreign policy-making - not least when her tone, and probably her content, go well beyond anything which her husband has said?

But what of Number 10's remark that Mrs Blair had done no more than to state "the obvious?" Maybe these sentiments are "obvious" in the Left-liberal metropolitan circles in which the Blairs move.

According to this world view, while suicide attacks are wrong, the Israelis have got it coming to them because of their supposedly appalling occupation policies. It is a variant of this Government's view of Northern Ireland - that, while the IRA did a lot of nasty things, its campaign of violence was made inevitable by the actions of the "apartheid" Unionist "statelet" from 1921-72.

In both cases, the Government accepts fairly uncritically the basic Palestinian and Irish nationalist narratives of the disputes, if not all their proposed remedies. This, in turn, is a variant of another of Tony Blair's favourite mantras - "Tough on crime, tough on the
causes of crime".

Mrs Blair completely misunderstands the motivation behind the suicide attacks. They are not caused by lack of "hope". Rather, they are fuelled by a surfeit of hope: first, the hope that the bombers will go to heaven if they murder Jews; secondly, the hope that their families will be rewarded by the Iraqi and Saudi governments to the tune of $25,000; and thirdly, the hope that they will destroy Israel.

An ideology that promotes hope by such means should be excoriated, not "understood". Mrs Blair lamely accepts the Palestinians' assertions about the "hopelessness" of their predicament - even though they would now be self-governing had they accepted Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David in July 2000.

Instead, the Palestinians opted for a return to violence, convinced by Israel's precipitate withdrawal from Lebanon earlier that year that the Zionist foe was in irremediable decline and that they could obtain more on the streets than at the negotiating table.

But they returned to armed struggle not only because they thought it in their interest, but also because they thought it was right. Day after day, the Palestinian and other Arab media portray Jews - yes, Jews, not Israelis - as sub-human devils with hooked noses who ritually sacrifice children and who have no right to live in the region, let alone to a state.

Suicide bombings, as opposed to other forms of armed struggle, take place largely because of a crazed ideology, not because of hopelessness. Mrs Blair's injudicious remarks will reverberate around the Arab world, and will give the Islamist fanatics the further hope that "one last heave" can do the trick.

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What Cherie really thinks