Eat your ‘red line’ words, Mr. President – or show some real stomach for a fight

There’s a question I’d like to ask Barack Obama right now: Where does a red line become a green light?

You’ve guessed, of course, because the answer is self-evident… in Syria.

Nonetheless, I’d be interested to hear how the US President unhooks himself off a peg he fashioned a year ago, when, in sternly unambiguous language, he warned dictator Bashar al-Assad a red line would be crossed if ever biological weapons were moved, let alone unleashed on the Syrian people.

Yet, even before last week’s horrific massacre that probably took at least several hundred lives, Obama knew the Demon of Damascus had already employed his chemical arsenal to lethal effect more than once.

And, though, as yet, there isn’t incontestable proof Assad wasn’t embolden to repeat the war crime on a far grander scale, the finger of suspicion points inexorably in his direction.

However, there are caveats. Aided by Iranian Republican Guards and Hezbollah cutthroats, government forces are reportedly crushing the opposition. And, with UN arms inspectors in town to check the scenes of earlier gassing incidents, it’s a questionable moment to re-deploy deadly nerve agents.

Contrarily, maybe in his Machiavellian mindset, Assad is counting on the swirling fog of civil war to cloud culpability and/or deliberately tweak Obama’s nose, knowing his allies, Russia and China, will parry any UN censure.

They did exactly that last Wednesday, rendering a Security Council statement gutless. However, in the light of international condemnation, Russia has been forced to back calls for a probe, even if Vladimir Putin still insists his pet tyrant isn’t the guilty party.

A MOTHER MOURNS: Many of the victims of the recent gassing in Syria were children

A MOTHER MOURNS: Many of the victims of the recent gassing in Syria were children

And it is not outside the realm of possibility that the motley rebels – especially battle-hardened jihadis, sprinkled with Al-Qaeda affiliates – concocted a ‘false flag’ black op to smear the Assad regime, not that it any needs help in cloaking itself in further opprobrium.

But, if Obama drew a red line in the Syrian sand and someone took this as a green light to act in gross defiance, what price the warning from the leader of the free world?

All we’ve heard is Obama has – finally! – asked his generals to ‘provide all options for all contingencies’, as he views the worsening situation with ‘grave concern.’

Understandably, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the West doesn’t want any more complicated adventures on Muslim soil or another gung-ho president in the mould of G. ‘Dubya’ Bush.

Yet, after seeing the hope that began as the Arab Spring lurch into an Islamic Winter and now serial slaughter, what is not required is a vacillating, over-conciliatory, moralising poseur, who talks the talk but patently fails to walk the walk.

And, while Obama may be the coolest dude to occupy the Oval Office, for all his theatrical gravitas, he’s in danger of becoming the lamest duck President since bumbling Jimmy Carter, which takes some underachieving.

He signalled this potentiality from the very start of his first term in office, when his initial foray overseas was to Cairo, where he made a grovelling speech, which the Arab world predictably scoffed at.

Since then, where Middle East matters are concerned, Obama has rarely put a foot right.

Admittedly, his options with Syria are now limited, particularly since he muffed the chance to be effectual a year ago, before the conflict became the magnet for every turbaned headbanger with an AK47 to hitch a camel-ride and join the carnage.

That lost window of opportunity would have afforded the West the chance to supply the then mainly moderate rebels at least with light arms plus anti-tank ordnance and prod the bunglers of the Arab League into helping clean up a mess in their own back yard.

MUFFED IT: Obama misses a putt during a golf game, just as he muffed the chance to sort out Syria

MUFFED IT: Obama misses a putt during a golf game, just as he muffed the chance to sort out Syria

Instead, like the legal geek he is, Obama navel-gazed, preferring to wag a reproving finger at Bashar The Basher and mutter darkly about ‘red lines’.

Well, one way or another, they have been crossed and, as the US Commander In Chief huffs and puffs, Vladimir Putin unfailingly delivers macho support to the Assad mafia, however disingenuous Russia’s morally-bankrupt motives are.

Britain and France, meanwhile, seem up to the challenge of trying to stop the Syrian madness escalating into a mini-holocaust – the death-count is already beyond 100,000 and largely composed of innocent civilians, many of them children – though UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, doesn’t specify what sort of intervention he has in mind.

It might mean establishing no-fly zones to checkmate Assad’s MIGs or bombing his missile batteries, as the RAF and French air force did to help oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya; conversely, it could involve selectively arming rebels, but ensuring weaponry doesn’t reach those seeking to impose an anti-Western, Sharia paradise on Syria; or it may mean diplomatically arm-twisting Russia and China to bring Assad to the peace talks table.

It should not mean, as Hague and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, have been at pains to stress, Western troops on the ground.

But at least they are talking robustly in a test for the West inflicted by the rhetoric of an American leader, who, so far, seems to display no real stomach for a fight.

So I suggest Obama recalls what he said on August 20, 2012, and, if he doesn’t, here’s a reminder:-

‘We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.’

Now the world waits with mounting urgency to hear what the President’s solution is, before droves more innocents die in Syria.

If something positive isn’t quickly forthcoming, I suggest Obama pops into the White House kitchen, butter two slices of bread, insert his words in between and eats them.

The credit crisis has changed our lives and – in some ways – for the better

It’s over…the credit crisis, that is. Happy days are here again – and don’t forget you read it here first.

At the risk of sounding off prematurely, apparently green shoots are positively sprouting everywhere, certainly some through the rustic slabs of my patio.

So, surely like you, I’m over the moon after six years of being as sick as a parrot, to borrow the lingo of soccer stars, most of whom never felt the pinch (unless they attracted a nibble from Liverpool’s Luis Suarez).

Six years ago this month boom turned to bust, contradicting spendthrift Gordon Brown’s silly forecast, and a decade of economic prosperity exploded in our smug, naïve faces.

On August 9, 2007, French bank, BNP Paribas, stopped investors withdrawing their money, then Lehman Brothers went belly up and queues of distraught account-holders formed outside Northern Rock in the first ‘bank run’ in Britain for 150 years.

To spare you from post-traumatic shock, I won’t reprise all the grisly details in the aftermath of ‘the day the world changed’ – as one economist dubbed that Meltdown Thursday – except to say businesses collapsed, currencies plummeted, interests were slashed and jobless stats rocketed, especially across the Eurozone.

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT: Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank

SOMETHING TO SMILE ABOUT: Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank

But, with dynamic, new Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, imported from Canada to wave a financial magic wand over the GB£ and a Mona Lisa smile creasing the stony countenance of Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank chief, at last the runes seem optimistic.

Still, as the economic data improves, how come I don’t hear bubbly bottles being popped, see bunting festooning streets or listen to the lilt of relieved banter in my local hostelry?

Save the well-shod few, the harsh fact is it still may take years for the ‘trickle-down’ effect to impact on most of us and some of the hardest hit will be doomed to live in penury for decades to come.

And even when (and if) The Crisis eventually fades, life will never be the same, because we’ve learned the lessons of whooping it up in a false utopia and only mugs will make those mistakes again.

We’ve become cannier now, cynical and less believing of our political leaders, not least the banking masters of the universe (a.k.a. robber barons). Most of all we’ve adjusted our lifestyles to cope with the realities of austerity and actually take no small measure of pride in how we well have adapted.

So how have we achieved that?

A snapshot survey of opinions in my neighbourhood is telling…

The weekly shop is done with greater price awareness, luxuries we once lavished on ourselves are rarer and the supermarkets we now patronise aren’t the upmarket emporiums they once were, but rather discount outlets (evidence: see Aldi’s stock-market price and its phenomenal turnover of cheap, quality vinos).

Motor trips, too, are under regular scrutiny – an echo of the old, wartime dictum: ‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary?’ – which signals double delight for the Greens, as fewer noxious gases are emitted and bicycling has flourished.

In other, diverse sectors vacations have morphed into ‘staycations’ and the divorce rate has dropped (by 23% in the UK), because separation is too expensive, thus proving the point that if loves doesn’t conquer all, a financial reality check can.

Plus, there have been some intriguing, if bizarre unintended consequences, as cash-strapped folk invent ways of saving.

A boom in home cooking has seen an upsurge of more exotic fare being tried – when we do eat out, incidentally, puddings are generally off the menu – and sales of racy lingerie are rising (work that one out for yourself, except to hint that man cannot live by telly alone).

Tupperware is now an office-worker’s must-have, since sarnies have replaced the executive lunch, while fruit-platters in boardrooms and free biscuits in meetings have bitten the dust, as have expensive potted plants and leased artwork.

Moving house went out of fashion, DIY came in – even my son (the one who once couldn’t replace a blown fuse in a plug) has installed himself a new shower to minimise the cost of power and the water it takes to soak in a hot bath.

FALLEN ON HARD TIMES: Even hookers are having to cut their charges

HARD TIMES: Even hookers have had to cut their charges

And pity the hard-up ‘ladies of the night’, who’ve had to pare their tariffs by as much as 50% to lure a punter into their boudoirs, according to a report by London’s Westminster Council, which reflects a Europe-wide trend.

So certainly a degree of Puritanism has entered our mindset, if not for religious motives.

However, there are the inevitable downsides…dental hygiene has suffered, because patients fear being landed with astronomic bills, though that’s partially offset by us eschewing the delights of the dessert trolley.

And we can’t get rid of our offspring. Property prices are still ridiculously high compared to earnings, so it’s not unusual for a 35-year-old to still be domiciled with disgruntled parents, who now query the wisdom of having kids in the first place.

In contrast, there is ‘housing consolidation’ – the terminology for converting the loft into a granny pad, flogging their bungalow to offset rising living costs and forestalling the distinct probability it will only get frittered away on expensive care-home fees at some future date.

Pets, too, are feeling the credit crunch, with some owners letting the cat out of the flap, then nailing it up or taking Fido on a one-way trip to the middle of nowhere. Britain’s RSPCA, for example, reports a 65% increase in the number of moggies and pooches being dumped since 2007.

Whatever else, the upshot is most of us have learned to be leaner and meaner, infinitely more discriminating in how, when and why we spend our moolah.

And that make-do-and-mend mentality isn’t going to change, even if the promise of some measure of economic stability is just around the proverbial corner.

Whether it is or not remains to be seen. But if it does, don’t forget who told you first.

Why Spain is stuck between a rock and a hard place over British Gib

Not for nothing is this time of year dubbed ‘The Silly Season’ and my prediction for the summer of 2013 is that it’ll go down in the annals as one of the daftest yet.

With parliaments in long recess, official business on hold and politicos busy spending their ill-gotten gains in sunnier climes, we news types are left scratching around for something pertinent to report.

Then – lo and behold! – our prayers are answered by another gripping sequel to an on-going brouhaha concerning a 2.6-square mile pimple on the gluteus maximus of Europe, with a population of around 30,000.

Yes, Gibraltar is again making headlines for all the wrong reasons. And, regardless of which country’s media and jingoism you subscribe to, there’s no denying the fact that verbal exocets are exploding with increasing velocity from both sides of the great divide, though Spain’s more so than Britain’s.

To the Spanish El Peñón, as they call The Rock, is a long-festering scab that gets picked from time to time, often – surprise, surprise! – coinciding with economic gloom. It’s a sure-fire distraction to set Latin tempers aflame, because it pricks to the pride of a nation whose patchwork quilt of autonomous regions regularly threatens to come apart at the seams.

So, while Catalans, Galicians, Extramadurans and certainly Basques can’t agree on most issues, Gib is the glue that sticks the Spanish Humpty Dumpty together again.

ROCK SOLID: 99% of Gibraltarians want to remain British

ROCK SOLID: 99% of Gibraltarians want to remain British

General Franco certainly understood the emotional impact of playing the Gibraltar card, because he made much of expunging the British overseas territory from local maps and inventing ‘border incidents’ to suit his whims.

Following in the footprints of the fascist dictator’s jackboots, now centre-Right premier Mariano Rajoy is in high dungeon over the Gib government’s decision to create an artificial reef to protect fish stocks by dumping concrete blocks into its waters, ostensibly imperilling the livelihoods of Spanish fishermen.

However, at a time when corruption allegations swirl round Spain’s government, the economy is on the rocks and unemployment at one of the highest levels in the EU, 7,000 Spaniards daily cross onto The Rock to work – a fact not lost on union chiefs, livid with their leader’s posturing in far-off Madrid.

Despite the commerical benefits, in what smacks of the backdrop to a farcical Gilbert and Sullivan libretto, Gibraltar has become an international flashpoint – and not for the first time at the petulant Rajoy’s prompting.

In May, 2012, the Popular Party leader threw his toys out of the pram and banned Queen Sofia from officially attending her cousin, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, presumably because it somehow implied recognition of UK sovereignty over the craggy outcrop. And to add insult to royal injury, Spain formally objected to a visit by Prince Edward and his missus to The Rock as part of his mum’s knees-up.

Now, cranking up the pressure, Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, mutters darkly about to taking Gib to the United Nations – not that they could sort out a schoolyard scrap – or the International Court of Justice, bogged down as it is in The Hague with the mundane trivia of trying war criminals.

ON THE ROCKS: Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish PM, is using Gib as a convenient distration

GIB THUMPER: But is Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy, simply using The Rock as a convenient distraction?

Meanwhile, a ploy being touted in Madrid is teaming up in common cause with Cristina Fernández Kirchner, Argentina’s pseudo-democratic dominatrix, who’s obsessed with ‘liberating’ the Falklands/Malvinas from British rule, despite all but one of the 2,841 islanders refusing her kind offer of citizenship.

However, Spain should realise that getting into the diplomatic sack with Hissy Crissy has its downsides, since she presides over a corrupt and bankrupt state that last year siezed YPF – the local arm of Spanish energy giant, Repsol – to pay off debts.

The odds, then, of a Spain-Argentina axis bearing fruit are, as my bookmaker says, about as good as a three-legged Chihuahua exploding out of Trap 6 to win the Greyhound Derby.

Neither has the weight of history on its side and both claims to territory that’s not theirs reek of crass hypocrisy.

Spain can blame the overarching ambition of Philip V for the loss of Gibraltar, because in 1701 he tried to usurp the French throne in what became known as the War of Spanish Succession.

Fearing a calamitous shift in European power, an alliance between Britain, Holland, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and the Duchy of Savoy crushed the Bourbon’s biscuit.

Gibraltar was captured in 1704 by an Anglo-Dutch fleet and, in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, ceded to Britain (along with Minorca temporarily) ‘in perpetuity’, which – the last time I consulted my lexicon – meant forever and a sunset.

Over the centuries the miniscule splodge of Jurassic limestone has played a defining role in Britain’s defences and, to some extent, still does. Moreover, in the last 13 years, its inhabitants have twice voted in plebiscites, by 99 to one, to remain British, which, under Europe’s rules of people’s self-determination, should render the issue beyond debate.

Like his Argentinian counterpart in the case of the Falklands, that doesn’t stop Rajoy banging on about bi-lateral talks with Britain over Gib’s future, bypassing the reasonable and legal aspirations of the locals.

However, when taken to task, he conveniently dodges the thorny topics of Melilla and Ceuta, the two enclaves of Spain’s North African empire, which the uppity Moroccans somehow consider theirs.

Let’s not forget, either, the medieval town of Olivenza, which the Spanish wrested from Portugal in the 1801 War of the Oranges and have retained with dubious legality ever since, irrespective of the fact that the Portuguese no longer kick up a fuss over its ownership.

And, if we’re discussing historical imperatives, add one from Osama bin Laden, whose first diktat as Al-Qaeda’s head honcho was to demand the return of Andalucía – El Andaluz, as his forbearers called it before 1492 – to Muslim dominion.

Verily, as pots call kettles black in the kitchen of international diplomacy, the vipers of historical fact have an unfortunate habit of biting the dissenter in the backside.

The perils of the ‘anti-social’ media: Facebook follies and Twitter ‘trolls’

According to the Chambers Dictionary definition, twitter is a ‘tremulous chirping’ and ‘an excrescence on a horse’s hoof’, which I’m sure Zara Philips would recognise instantly.

Handling as it does 40 million ‘tweets’ a day, Twitter is also a social media phenomenon, so colossally popular it has ballooned into the second most-visited information exchange after Facebook.

So how come I rather favour Chambers’ latter definition, minus allusion to things equine, because I think there’s a clear and present danger it is becoming not so much ‘excrescence’ more on-line, verbal excrement?

I don’t ‘tweet’ for two main reasons: i) I’d find it nigh on impossible to say anything meaningful in a maximum of 140 characters; and ii) most of the outpourings I’ve read on Twitter are so utterly puerile, I don’t wish to join a club whose membership includes lobotomised nerds with nothing better to do than to stuff their opinionated vanities down the gullets of the gullible or similarly vacuous.

Yes, yes, I’m sure Twitter has some very salient advantages, which many folk appreciate. However, my gut instinct tells me I’m somehow not going to benefit from the ‘tweeted’ wit and wisdom of overpaid soccer stars or what some preening pop princess has to contribute on the topic of world peace.

TWEETERS BEWARE: Anonymous 'trolls' lurk in the dark zones of Twitter, often targeting women

TWEETERS BEWARE: Anonymous ‘trolls’ lurk in the dark zones of Twitter, often targeting women

Maybe it’s a generational gap – after all, 51% of its users are in the 24-34 age bracket – but frankly I suspect the whole social media scene is a minefield, too easily open to misuse by abusers dubbed ‘trolls’.

Facebook, meanwhile, can be a mixed bag, though I have a page on that site, where this blog features.

Certainly, it’s a splendid means of mass broadcasting personal messages – thereby nullifying the need to make countless phone calls – but beware of pitfalls…like saying how you’re coping after the decree nisi (fact: one in five divorces is blamed on Facebook).

Maybe the pool party photos you posted of you and what’s-his-name skinny-dipping, rat-legged, might have been to blame. The judge certainly didn’t buy the line it was just innocent fun, especially when your newly-liberated ‘ex’ was away on business in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, was it wise to announce to every burglar in the neighbourhood you were off on that round-the-world cruise? No wonder those nasty insurance men made such a fuss over your claim for replacing three plasma-screen TVs, all those expensive electronic gizmos and your late mum’s collection of Georgian silver after they’d seen your Facebook page.

Frankly, I’m often gobsmacked at how much personal info people naively post on the internet about their plans, their thoughts and those wonderful snaps, which is why Facebook has become the first portal of call from the criminal fraternity.

Twitter, however, is an entirely different social media animal – and lately too often a vicious, nihilistic form of disseminating obnoxious disinformation by any moron with the minimal grey matter to invent a hash-tag.

So, far from social media being a positive force for democratising the internet, thus allowing individuals to plug their talents or businesses and form friendships, in parts it has become a virtual realm of dark lawlessness for the anti-social to gratuitous pervert what we glibly describe as ‘free speech’.

And, in the wrong hands, it’s fascistic, because it directly contradicts the compact that exists in a civilised society, whereby we accept moral responsibilities – and legal edicts – that curb what we can do and say.

The official media generally accept those obligations, because libel actions are expensive, while phone-hacking and bribing cops is illegal.

TWEETERING TWIT? Sally Berkow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker, paid the price for an erroneous 'tweet'

TWEETERING TWIT: Sally Berkow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker

Some ‘tweeters’, too – notably silly Sally Berkow, wife of the UK House of Commons Speaker, comedian Alan Davies and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot – also found a loose texting finger can be costly and embarrassing, after they erroneously smeared Lord McAlpine as a paedophile.

Yet, Twitter remains the preferred weapon of choice for sinister ‘trolls’, who eke out sicko pleasure in cyber-bullying and stalking an untold number of women with the most chillingly explicit menaces.

It’s also the nether world of sexual predators and racists, who can broadcast their bile by cellphone, on the hoof and ostensibly undetectable.

Meanwhile, because the demented perps hide behind the anonymity of hash-tags and operate in cowardly isolation, nobody, it seems, can collar them.

The police claim they haven’t the resources, despite managing to arrest a man over alleged death threats to British parliamentarian Stella Creasy and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.

And Twitter? So far their knee-jerk reaction has been little more than a cringe-inducing ‘personal apology’ from its UK boss, Tony Wang.

ABUSE VICTIM: Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself after being bullied by anonymous 'trolls' on the Ask.fm website

ABUSE VICTIM: Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself after being cyber-bullied by anonymous ‘trolls’ on the Ask.fm website

Twitter and Facebook, however, aren’t the only miscreants, because last week 14-year-old Hannah Smith, from Leicestershire, hanged herself, after receiving threats on Ask.fm, a Q&A site, which allows users to send messages to one another without having to disclose their identities.

Last year two Irish youngsters took their lives in separate incidents after also being bullied on the same, Latvia-based site.

Clearly, this state of internet anarchy can’t prevail and politicians everywhere seem powerless to stop the rot, except to issue pious words of condemnation.

So the solution must rest with the social media platform providers themselves, who should show some social responsibility for the billions they net, by blocking the nasties and nutters from their domains.

Until they do, ‘tweet’ at your peril and make sure your Facebook postings don’t explode in your face.

Low hopes for Kerry’s ‘roadmap’ finding a highway to Middle East peace

It’s tempting to write off John Kerry’s efforts to undo one of the most intractable knots challenging world diplomacy before it’s even generated a wisp of steam.

But last week, in Washington, the US Secretary of State at least started the ball rolling by bringing together Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, if only for talk about talks.

Kerry has set a nine-month timeframe for his peace roadmap to flourish or flounder, as all other attempts have done since both sides signed up to the 1993 Oslo Accords.

But if all ends in acrimony, it should produce one, valuable indicator: we’ll find out which of the antagonists sincerely wants to reap a peace dividend, not widen the great divide.

Oddly, despite not even the starriest-eyed optimist prepared to bet a red US cent on the outcome, as the craziest region on earth goes madder by the minute this might be a propitious time to break the longest-running Middle East impasse.

PEACE-SEEKER: No-one is better on John Kerry's Mid-East 'roadmap' reaching its aim of an Israel-Palestinian deal

PEACE-SEEKER: No-one is better on John Kerry’s Mid-East ‘roadmap’ reaching its aim of an Israel-Palestinian deal

Surrounding by chaos and bloodletting in Syria and Egypt – plus another Lebanese civil war looming – even a frosty peace with a Palestinian-West Bank state would allow Israel to concentrate on the far greater existential menace of a nuclear Iran (and plenty are betting the mad mullahs will have their weapon by the end of 2014).

And a deal would also leave Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, crowing, because it would deliver a triple-whammy to his arch foes, Hamas.

The murderous bigots of Gaza are already isolated, following the ousting of their Muslim Brotherhood buddies in Egypt and they’re in Iran’s bad books for refusing to back the Assad tyranny in Syria.

So, if only predicated on the theory that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, Abbas and Israel’s premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, have some common cause.

Israel, however, is nothing if not pragmatic. It has twice pursued the ‘land for peace’ route, with Egypt and Jordan, returning huge swathes of territory both lost in the 1967 Six Day War, when their invading armies were routed.

In Jordan’s case, it ceded control of a West Bank it grabbed illegally in the 1948 War of Israel Independence to the Palestinians, while Egypt gifted them the Gaza Strip.

A chilly peace continues to exist between the two Arab nations and Israel, but this never prevented shockwaves of Palestinian terrorism, ultimately forcing the Jewish state to construct a wall round itself, resulting in suicide bomb attacks plummeting by 90%.

Meanwhile, with everything in play under Kerry’s ambitious plan, the duplicitous Abbas still tried to insist on pre-conditions, first calling for talks to be based on the 1948 armistice – the indefensible ‘Auschwitz Lines’ in Israeli parlance – which never set borders.

Much to Abbas’s chagrin all historical evidence – i.e. UN Resolution 242 in 1967, which called for ‘secure and recognized boundaries’ and the Oslo Accords, which promoted ‘mutually-agreed’ land swaps – ignored the 1948 ‘lines’, thus exploding more myths Palestinian propagandists have tried to peddle to a gullible world for years.

PEACE GESTURE: Israel PM, Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to release 81 hardened terrorists

PEACE GESTURE: Israel PM, Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to release 81 hardened terrorists

Similarly, Abbas must have known his call for ‘refugees’ right of return’ would fall on deaf ears, since the 650,000 who originally fled or were ejected 64 years ago have now multiplied to 4.5 million.

With Israel’s population of around eight million – and already including 1.5 million Israeli Arabs, who enjoy lifestyles and freedoms unmatched anywhere in the Arab world – absorbing such a colossal influx would be demographic suicide.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu pre-empted an Abbas demand by freezing any new plans for West Bank settlement construction.

However, by attempting to impose his own agenda over Kerry’s, uncertainties arise as to whether the PA president is actually sincere in his quest for peace or whether he’ll invent a  smokescreen excuse to abort the talks and blame Israel for their breakdown.

The Jews have a word for such outrageous impudence: chutzpah, best defined by the allegorical story of a man convicted of murdering both his parents, who pleaded for clemency from the judge…because he was an orphan.

However, as a positive gesture, Netanyahu agreed to phase the controversial release of 81 Palestinian prisoners – all vicious, hard-core terrorists, who have cold-bloodedly slaughtered and maimed thousands of Israeli civilians – and put any potential peace deal to a referendum.

With an overwhelming majority of Israelis favouring the creation of a viable, non-belligerent Palestinian state, subject to final terms, the plebiscite should be a formality.

In stark contrast, after decades of Palestinians being drip-fed a diet of hate-filled, anti-Semitic bile, Abbas faces a hard sell if his people are to accept peace with the Israelis, regardless of the boundless commercial, economic and social benefits it guarantees.

A snapshot of attitudes on the Palestinian ‘street’, as revealed by a recent Pew Survey shows how deeply they are locked into a medieval mindset: 40% believe suicide bombing is justified, 89% think homosexuality is immoral, that women must always obey their husband and favor the imposition of Sharia law, while 45% believe honor killing is permissible.

PEACE PARTNER? Arafat spurned peace, but will Mahmoud Abbas break with Palestinian tradition and give peace a chance?

PEACE PARTNER? Arafat spurned every deal offered, so will PA boss, Mahmoud Abbas, break with tradition and give peace a chance?

Additionally, Abbas’s leadership ratings are in tailspin and his credentials as a potential peacemaker are woeful.

In line with the established custom and practice of many Arab regimes, his presidency is tainted, because his term in office expired over four years ago and he adamantly refuses all calls for new elections.

With a bankrupt exchequer reliant on US and EU bailouts (plus, to some extent, Israel) – though with no significant contribution from his rich, Arab brethren, who frankly detest the Palestinians – Abbas’s presidency is rife with cronyism and graft.

There is little or no financial transparency and civil servants have gone unpaid for months.

In April, former World Bank economist, Salam Fayyad, acrimoniously quit as prime minister and in June, his replacement, Rami Hamdallah, an independent academic, resigned after only two weeks in the job.

Both cited clashes with the autocratic president and his chums from the Fatah party.

So the key question is: will Abbas give peace a chance and break with the traditions of his predecessors – Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Hitler-worshipping Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and venal, money-laundering despot, Yasser Arafat, who, in the words of Israel’s late, eminent Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, ‘Never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity’?

The world waits with hope – and places no bets on peace breaking out.