Opinion: Israel – time for action

ConservativeHome.com carries a couple of articles on the recent excesses of the Israeli military. Alex Deane loses himself in his eulogy to the State of Israel: surrounded by “enemies who wish her ill”, this “sliver of democracy and decency has always held my sympathy,” he informs the reader.

However, pick up a Sunday newspaper, and you can see that Israeli policy is pretty far from decency. If even the likes of Deane are feeling that supporting Israel is now “less straightforward”, then serious questions have to be asked about how long the guilt-induced whitewashing of Israel’s actions can last.

Signs were emerging yesterday of a new consensus, with all three parties criticising Israel’s recent air raids on the Gaza Strip. However, the crux of the question is what will emerge out of this new climate of criticism. Will we see concrete calls for increasing stringent sanction to be applied to Israel while it continues to violate international law with impunity?

Much will depend on the attitude of the incoming US President, Barack Obama. Sadly, there is little hope of a more stringent line emerging from an Obama administration. Visiting Israel last summer he said:

If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that.”

All of which sounds very reasonable but does little to address the complexities of the vast power disparities in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the cause-effect relationship between the actions Israel takes and why Hamas enjoys the support it does amoung the Palestinian population. Put simply, Israel’s problem is that it has been allowed carte blanche for far too long, and that is as damaging to it as it is to the innocents that it rolls over. Thus we see that when Israel launches these actions it gives no heed to the ‘collateral damage’ it incurs. The Guardian reports:

The raids had been expected to begin tomorrow, and the fact that they took place mid-morning rather than at night meant many official buildings and schools were full. Some of the missiles struck densely populated areas as children were leaving school. Parents rushed into the streets to search for them. Television footage from Gaza showed bodies scattered on a road and the dead and wounded being carried away. Civilians rushed to the targeted areas and tried to move the wounded in their cars to hospital.

We can expect more scenes that David Cameron would describe as ‘horrific’ to result from a ground incursion, and we can expect the unrelenting cycle of destruction to continue. The prevailing mood in Israel is that this is a cut-and-dried military conflict (which it isn’t) and that therefore its vast technical superiority will ensure its ‘victory’ (which it won’t). Technical military superiority is worth nothing when it comes to facing an opponent which can count on a substantial social base nourished by an embittered and impoverished population. Israel will never stop the rocket attacks while it thinks in military terms for just that reason. Neither will it make the painful concessions necessary because they will be seen too widely as a ‘retreat’ by a population which is swamped in the same siege mentality that Deane gives eloquent testimony to. So the cycle won’t be broken.

While there are signs that the right, at least in this country, is becoming increasingly alienated from Israel’s actions, the left usually loses itself in abstractions about which form of state is best to ‘solve the problem’. Instead of proceeding from what actually is, we proceed from how we would wish the world to be; in some cases that means undoing 50 years of history; in others it means simply asking two hostile communities to have a touching ‘Kodak moment’ and forget the river of blood and bitterness that divides them.

It could, however, be broken, if the international community was determined and resolute in bringing Israel to heel. Suddenly, the Palestinians would see that maybe their best route to salvation may not be to offer succour to the bigots of Hamas and that there is another way. Israelis, meanwhile, would be forced to face the fact that the ‘easy’ solution to living in fear is not the right one; that the only way to end the attacks is to make some painful but necessary concessions to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians.

Concretely, the international community has to consider sanctions of some form against Israel, and certainly the suspension of all armament sales. It may also have to consider offering some logistical support in the form of peacekeeping forces. Such an undertaking would no doubt be perilous, but unlike the adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq would be worth the ‘end game’ – lasting peace and stability in a troubled region and a serious ideological blow against terrorism.

* Darrell Goodliffe blogs at Moments of Clarity.

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38 Comments

  • I think that this piece is a little, ahem, ‘confused’. Rocket attacks would not stop even if Israel offered everything that the Palestinians could reasonably expect. There will always be those who wish to drive Israel into the sea. Equally, Israel’s actions should be seen through the lens of the February election where Livni is under threat from Bibi Netanyahu and has to look tough.

    After failing to adequately analyse the situation, the proposed solution is laughable. Sanctions on Israel is just as laughable as going on about a two-state solution (will the US veto much??). And British troops in Israel/Palestine being more sensible than in Afghanistan? Is he crazy? The last time our troops were there the Arabs threw stones and the King David hotel was blown up. The terrorists that threaten us are in Afghanistan/Pakistan not the Gaza Strip.

  • The relationship between the United States and Israel is rather like the relationship between South Africa and Zimbabwe. One word from the master, and the servant comes to heel.

    Israel is totally dependant, militarily and economically, on the United States of America. Israel cannot breathe without Cheney’s say-so. It matters not what Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, the EU or Ratzinger say. The only opinions that count are expressed in exclusive country clubs in the outer suburbs of Washington.

    The two sides in this conflict are never going to like each other, and probably won’t be able to live in close proximity with much ease. But I think it is possible to “freeze” the conflict, in much the same way that the Yugoslav conflict was “frozen”. The combatants retreat behind lines set by the Americans and stay there. It would mean the dismantling of illegal Jewish settlements, and a road with barbed wire on either side connecting Gaza with the West Bank. And it would (or should) mean the dismantling of Israel’s illegal nuclear weapons.

    None of this will happen, and that is because it is in the interests of the US military-industrial-petrochemical complex to keep the conflict going for as long as possible. An unstable Middle East enabled Cheney to invade Iran, launch his assault on domestic civil liberties, and increase military spending. He isn’t going to allow peace to break out in Israel/Palestine any time soon.

  • You don’t think because very few people win presidential elections without Florida and fundraising from the Jewish community? Equally, the pro-Israeli evangelicals are a key group. America isn’t Israel’s master, it’s the other way around…

    The very idea that countries with troops in Afghanistan (where the terrorists are…) and Iraq would all agree in the Security Council to send in troops to police what’s been called the ‘much promised land’ for no clear national interest, against the wishes of both the Palestinians and the Israelis and would have any effect, is quite frankly ridiculous.

    Also, this is a slightly fanciful sense of what Palestinian terrorism is. Now, Israel’s reaction might be abhorrent,but Hamas are not political scientists waiting for a two-state solution. Read its charter (which has never been amended). Palestine was never a ‘nation’ in any sense until the 1930s (and never with defined boundaries to this day). Previously they were southern Syrians or Jordanians or Ottoman subjects etc. The Balkans and the Caucuses are still working out who belongs to what. The idea of sending in troops to an area of the world two hundred years or more of nationalist history behind is naive.

  • Al Qaeda have been in Pakistan for years and years, and this is not a consequence of the Afghan war. How we take out known Al Qaeda operatives with drones in Pakistan when we are not in Afghanistan, I don’t know. Add in the fact that there is simply no way that we could or should send in troops to Israel or Palestine (for all the reasons already outlined), and this is fanciful at best.

    The idea that Israel-Palestine solves the problem is also silly (besides, when did we get all conservative and aim for ‘stability’?). Have you read Osama’s edicts? Any Qutb? Know any of the Shia-Sunni rivalry? There is plenty to be getting on with with or without Israel (and it is still not clear that many, many groups would accept any viable solution). Al Qaeda will not stop until there is no Israel. Indeed, until there is an Islamic Caliphate.

    Let’s not get distracted from real IR problems (terrorism and Al Qaeda, responsible for deaths on London streets), by problems that might well be intractible, with solutions that are unworkable and inconceivable politically.

    As for ‘national interest’, is there more national interest in resolving the Nagorni-Karabach dispute which worsens our possibilities for oil and gas pipelines that avoid Russia? What about the moral duty to stop deaths in Congo? Darfur?

  • Andrew Duffield 29th Dec '08 - 12:25pm

    New thinking is desparately required. How about the EU inviting both Israel and Palestine to join – with all the requisite political co-operation and collaborative economic benefits which membership entails?

  • Darrell,
    It is NOT the reason that people are recruited to Al Qaeda- just read OBL’s propaganda. They want an ISLAMIC CALIPHATE. How do we win hearts and minds enough to make them wish for something else? Regardless of whether troops should be in Iraq or Afghanistan, there is a considerably weaker case for troops to be in Israel or Palestine, as for all of the very many objections that you have not been able to overcome. Added to that, your means (troops in the Holy Land against the wishes of both sides) would not lead to your asserted aim (stability). A lot of the ‘stability’ of the region is predicated on distracting populations from their own country’s problems by focusing on Israel/Palestine instead- another reason why the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt etc have been treated so shabbily and not been naturalised. Solving Israel/Palestine would [i]destabilise[/i] the region. In a good way, but not in your conservative, ‘stability’-minded worldview.

    These questions are nuanced and difficult, one can’t just adopt standard boilerplate ‘march against bad stuff’ platitudes and think it statesmanship.

  • Last time the UN tried to get involved, it was a disaster:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1947_UN_Partition_Plan

    Sure- Palestine is a sense of grievance for terrorists, but that does not mean that we should cater to them. We need a just peace for their own sake. We should seek to hunt down and bring terrorists to justice. They have been pissed off about a load of other things and will continue to be so.

    Most people are either for intervention, against intervention or for intervention if several conditions are present. Your choice of picking here- as Anon is blustering towards- seems a little random. Conditions do not seem more ripe here than in other parts of the world that need UN mediation and deserve our attention, which always seems unduly drawn to the political football match of Israel/Palestine.

  • Anon,
    I think troops is a very silly idea too, but it is true to say that the new White House needs a lot more active diplomacy- an outline of a deal is pretty clear: two-state, 1967 boundaries with land swaps, at least compensation for refugees (although right to return is probably not politically feasible), shared East Jerusalem etc. Political stars are not aligned- dead duck Israeli administration, split Palestinian sovereignty between Fatah and Hamas etc. Peace with Palestine might flow through Syria- the International Community should be putting together a deal to make Assad play ball and open Syria up.

  • How do you propose to wish peace upon them? It might well take another 50 years, but Camp David/Taba (i.e. the last time the White House took an interest) was the closest anyone has ever been to a solution. There is no Western-imposed (rather than mediated) solution. It’s politically impossible in the West and it is what caused the problems in the first place. You can’t stop Israel taking military action and you can’t stop Hamas firing rockets, just as they couldn’t stop the bombing of the King David Hotel or the Arab Strike.

    You might be sceptical of peace any time soon- I know I am- but there is no better solution that has been proposed.

  • Darrell, you also took my quote woefully out of context. There is not enough rationale for the West to get involved beyond the fact that the situation is a tragedy- that’s why Bush has happily ignored the situation for the last 8 years. Yes, it would help a bit at the margins with terrorism but it could destroy a presidency. You have to want to make peace ‘for its own sake’.

  • Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear facilities in Osirak in, I think, 1982. There are voices who think outsourcing a military attack on Iran to Israel would not be a bad idea. I am not saying that I am, but I think that it has little to do with the Palestine situation- we’ve been here before.

    Yes- we need a global agreement on arms sales. But also remember- or read up- what happened last time the West had an arms embargo? Guns were smuggled from Czechoslovakia. Just as we will always have drugs, we’ll always have international arms dealing. The Russian Mr Boot, Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan and other arms dealers (Kashoggi etc) show that states are not even necessary…

    If we can’t police it- and there are still a million reasons on this thread why we can’t- and they can’t self-police it, doesn’t this undercut the whole reason for going on about this area rather than the 400,000 dead in Darfur? The thousands dieing in Congo? What about the already mentioned frozen conflict in Nogorny-Karabakh? Azerbaijani-Armenian peace would really help the prospects for energy independence from Russia and the Middle East…

  • We could and should not sell arms there but, without a genuine international agreement, someone else will and the cycle of violence will continue. You mentioned that everything was different because Israel might bomb Iran. I showed that Israel has bombed Iraq and the story continued unfolding as before. And it has been conclusively demonstrated by Anon that the situation is of not a great deal of geopolitical significance. Less than Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Nagorni-Krabakh. Less moral cause than Congo or Darfur.

  • And there is still no viable solution beyond a self-policed diplomatically-produced agreement, no matter how unlikely.

  • We were in a Cold War! A rather larger shooting match…

    Israel is not in Afghanistan or Iraq,so it would seem silly to react to Israel bombing them in that way. If so, then it is an act of war against US. As also mentioned before, Iran can try and stir up Shia in Iraq, but even Al Sadr is not completely four square behind them.

    Indeed, if Israel bombed them, there would be less likelihood for retaliation than if the US/UK did it. So your argument does not follow.

    Self-policing isn’t going to happen- as you say perhaps- and policing is inpractible (troops would not be allowed in, White House won’t impose a solution, troops would get killed everywhere, can’t stop arms shipments, Arabs further radicalised by seeing troops on our side, Israel’s annoyed at our presence).

    So, no solution to Israel-Palestine and of hugely less significance than most think geopolitically unlike other situations already mentioned.

    What was the column about again?

  • The world is less dangerous now. Less likely that one wrong step would start WWIII. There is ample academic literature on the topic: ‘Remnants of War’ is my particular favourite. And considering that Iran has already instigated an act of war against Israel (via Hezbollah) and there is evidence of them taking aim against the US in Iraq, your argument- chain of causation already stretched- seems a little flimsy.

    Still, larger rebuttal remains. There is little geo-strategic significance compared to other situations and we are still lacking a workable solution.

  • The fact is that there is statistically less war now than before. There may have been a cold war before but both sides were funnelling arms to hot wars across the globe. Hezbelloh are also a quasi-state actor- they were members of the Lebanese government.

    Still, the obstacles and arguments remain.

  • Statistics don’t ‘mean nothing’, and it’s rather horrifying that you think this the case. I am sure that all of the social sciences won’t lose any sleep over your antipathy. You can’t just assert ‘facts’ and then ignore rebutting evidence: it’s petty and close-minded.

    Still, the larger argument remains, albeit if you seem unlikely to admit any fallibility.

  • It’s a rather Bush-like idea that 9/11 ‘changed everything’. I recommend you pick up ‘Remnants of War’. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I am sure. Also, on Israel/Palestine, ‘Righteous Victims’ by Benny Morris is a must-read. Anyway, it’s been real.

  • Israel does have legitimate concerns about security and these must be addressed. But so must the rights of the Palestinians. To recap the history, Israel itself recognises that the state was created, not from the dawn of time, but by a UN Resolution. That resolution guaranteed the rights of those already in the two states that were proposed, and key right include that of return to one’s own country and the safety and security of one’s own property. Thus, the refugees have the right to return home and to vote and the results of Israeli elections would be very much different if the exiled refugees were given back their citizenship.

    Additionally, the land and businesses that have been taken, without any compensation, from Palestinians, must be returned. As Jews, we argue that our property should be returned or compensated when the Nazis took it, how can the same rights not apply to Palestinians?

    I suggest that Israel and the Palestinians join the EU, with full rights of free movement, and guaranteed rights for minorities. The settlements in the West Bank are handed back to the Palestinians, and we have rights to live in 27 new states in Europe. Since the USA supports us so much, we ask for unrestricted rights to emigrate to the USA too. That we, Jews are free and safe, with a right to reside, in most of the free world.

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