Israel is Trapped, and the Chance of Peace is Ever More Remote

While the West is preoccupied with a crisis, a tragedy is unfolding.
The world's financial system will recover. On the Israel/Palestine
peace process, there can be no comparable optimism, for it is not clear
whether such a process still exists. No process, no peace; a settlement
is further away now than at any time since 1967. Israel seems bent on a
course which will lead to its eventual destruction.

There is
a hideous irony. The way that events are unfolding is a posthumous
triumph for Adolf Hitler. With the winding-up of the Soviet Union, the
last of the poisons created by the Second World War could be eliminated
from the European bloodstream. Not the Middle Eastern one. It is easy
to understand why the Israelis reacted as they did. Once you have
suffered a Holocaust at the hands of the race which produced Beethoven,
Goethe and Mozart, you lose trust in mankind's benevolence: lose faith
in everything except your own soldiers and weaponry.

It is
equally easy to understand why the Palestinians reacted as they did.
Those who are driven into exile and refugeedom do not feel
well-disposed towards their oppressors. The Palestinians felt no
linguistic inhibitions, and why should they? They bore no guilt for the
Holocaust. In the grip of - understandable - rage, some Palestinian
rhetoric developed Nazi resonances. That was a mistake. It aroused
every Israeli trauma. We have been here before, many Israelis
concluded. This time, no one is going to herd us to our death like
cattle. This time, we will get our retaliation in first.

Because
of the circumstances in which their Jewish state was created, most
Israelis believe that they have two existential necessities, and
entitlements. They want to enjoy security and they insist that their
neighbours recognise their rights to do so. That does not seem
unreasonable. But it is. It fails the highest test of political
rationality. It is not realistic.

This does not mean that
Israelis should have to live in bomb shelters under constant risk of
attack. But they have chosen to live in a dangerous neighbourhood, so
there must be compromises. Instead of the delusion of absolute security
by imposing a humiliating peace on crushed opponents, Israel should
understand the need for a modus vivendi.

Israelis are proud of
their achievements over the past 60 years, and rightly so. But most of
them are guilty of a crass failure of moral sensitivity leading to an
equally crass strategic misjudgment. They fail to understand that their
security will always be under threat from their neighbours' misery.
Above all, their leaders lack the political wisdom and the moral
courage to tell Israelis something which most probably know in their
hearts: that to make peace, they will have to take risks.

The
first act of the current tragedy began in 1967, after the Six-Day War.
Plucky little Israel was master of the battlefield. She had overrun a
vast acreage of Arab territory. Almost immediately, even by those who
had never been enthusiastic about the State of Israel, distinctions
began to be drawn between the pre-'67 boundaries and the 1967
conquests. Israel had a tremendous hand of cards, strategic and moral.
There was never a better moment for "in victory, magnanimity".

Israel
should have announced that unlike almost every previous military
victor, she did not seek territorial gains; her sole war aims were
peace and justice. To secure them, she was prepared to trade her
conquests, with the obvious exception of the Holy Places in old
Jerusalem. On such a basis, and with huge international support, a deal
would have been possible. But there were problems. At its narrowest
point, pre-'67 Israel was only 12 miles wide. A tank thrust from the
West Bank could have cut the country in two. Although the generals
cannot be blamed for failing to predict the era of asymmetric warfare
in which tank thrusts would only occur in war movies, their insistence
on a demilitarised West Bank complicated matters. Then a temptation
emerged, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Israel was short
of land. Much of the West Bank seemed to be inhabited by raggedy
goatherds, primevally picturesque, poor and unproductive. Israeli
agriculture would soon have the place flowing with milk and honey,
while Israeli architects built new homes for a growing population. So
the settlements began. The temptation to colonise the occupied
territories was abetted by theology. Under the Jehovah declaration,
somewhat preceding the Balfour one and also somewhat more extensive,
historic Israel was said to include the West Bank. Israel ate the apple.

In
order for Israel's pre-'67 Promised Land to be secure, most of the
settlements would have to be evacuated, so that a viable Palestinian
state could come into existence. It would always have been virtually
impossible to generate the political will for this in Israel. Last
week's election results eliminated the "virtually".

Even if it
wished to do so, which seems unlikely, the new Israeli government could
make no progress towards a Palestinian state. Because of its rigidly
proportional electoral system, Israel will be condemned to weak
governments blackmailed by extremist parties. The imperative to reach a
just peace with Palestine will have no leverage on Israeli domestic
politics.A prosperous Palestinian state would not guarantee
Israel's safety. Some young men would still be enticed by fanaticism
and violence. But the problem would be much more manageable. If most
Palestinians had a stake in a decent future, there would be many fewer
suicide bombers - and the '67 vintage Israeli generals were right on
one point. Theirs is a tiny country. The first WMD suicide bomber would
do terrible damage.

Over the years, Israel has proved that it can
deal with conventional threats. Like the rest of us, it is now working
out how to cope with terrorism and asymmetric warfare. Israeli opinion
would angrily reject any answers that smacked of appeasement. But a
Palestinian state is justice, not appeasement. There are alternatives.
Israel could abandon the pretence of a two-state solution and offer the
Palestinians Israeli citizenship: the end of the Jewish state. Or she
could try ethnic cleansing: drive the Palestinians into Jordan. That
would be the end of the Jewish state as a moral entity.

Assuming
the alternatives to be unacceptable, there is only justice, or
continued muddle, with a sullen, resentful Palestinian population
awaiting inflammation. That, alas, is almost a certainty, and who knows
how far the flames will spread? Israel is a wonderful place, with
landscape, culture, increasingly good wine and as much political
argument as you can hold. The country emerged out of tragedy. It would
be heart-rending if its heroic journey ended in tragedy. Yet that is
the likeliest outcome, and it would be Israel's fault.

© 2023 The Independent