Thanks for the response, and I’m very happy to retract any suggestion that you didn’t read the Nick Cohen article properly.
I entirely agree that there are powerful forces within Palestinian society working against any prospect of peace. One of my main aims in this blog is to try to communicate this to at least a few of those who believe all the bad guys are on the Israeli side.
What I think is dangerous is to move from that contention to the view that they are the only significant forces at work.
Can I offer you a parallel to try to illuminate my point about Palestinian aspirations? Spain was forced to cede Gibraltar to Britain at the end of a war 300-odd years ago. Today the Rock has a population reputed to be more British than the British. To this day, however, the demand for its restitution is both official Spanish policy and a common denominator of Spanish patriotism right across the political spectrum. Various ways of making life difficult for the Gibraltarians have been adopted in support of this claim. This all tells us that memories tend to be long where lost territory is concerned. BUT nobody in their right minds wants or expects Spain to mount an invasion, and the dispute does not prevent Britain and Spain from being partners in the EU and NATO.
I’m certainly not suggesting that an accommodation like this between Israelis and Palestinians is going to be on the cards any time soon. The point is simply that nationalist aspirations do not necessarily generate violence.
Next I’d like to put forward a schema of four points on the continuum of possible Palestinian responses to Israel:
- Israel is illegitimate. It must be destroyed by whatever means necessary and its Jewish population driven out or at least subjugated in order that the integrity of the Caliphate may be restored.
- Israel is illegitimate. There should be a single state in which Palestinians and Jews enjoy equal rights. There can be no compromise on this, and all necessary force must be used to accomplish it.
- The creation of Israel was a disaster for Palestinians and we look to a single-state solution to fully rectify the wrong done to us. Nevertheless Israel is a reality which we have to deal with. Specifically we must recognize that a single-state solution is dependent on peace and the building of mutual trust. We cannot demand it as their precondition. Therefore we must work towards a negotiated two-state solution as an achievable goal for the foreseeable future and acknowledge that terrorist violence brings us no nearer to our ultimate aspiration.
- Israel is a fully legitimate state whose status we have no right to challenge. Our aspirations should be limited to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside it.
The question now is: where is the threshold at which serious talking can begin? We’re clearly agreed that position 1 gives Israel nothing to talk about. Position 2 also gives Israel no incentive to talk. To concede a two-state solution on this basis would simply be rewarding Palestinian violence without gaining any guarantee of security beyond fine words.
Position 4 is evidently where you would like the Palestinians to be, and I can quite understand that. I just think that if Israel and the world wait for the Palestinians to come round to this point of view they will wait forever, and in the meantime the extremists will be the winners. Whereas I believe position 3 is the hinge on which real progress turns. It doesn’t involve Palestinians thinking as Israelis would like them to think, but I return to my contention that that isn’t a realistic expectation.
Now for a second parallel: Northern Ireland. The Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein waged their campaign of terrorist violence from the late 1960s through to the 1990s on the basis of an official ideology like position 2 – the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland had a place within a united Ireland, but so long as they rejected reunification their resistance must be broken down, and the British ejected, by whatever force was necessary. In practice purely sectarian attacks on Protestants by the IRA and other Republican groups often suggested their real goals were closer to position 1.
What has happened in the peace process of the last few years has been a move towards the equivalent of position 3. The goal of a united Ireland has certainly not been abandoned, but there is a recognition that terrorism is counter-productive. The focus now is on working peacefully within the institutions of Northern Ireland, and the more farsighted Republicans look to this as a means to begin building bridges with the Protestant community.
Things are not perfect. The political situation is fraught with complications. Sectarian bigotry regularly flares into violence. But the bombings have stopped, and the IRA has at last disarmed.
Of course the parallel is not exact. But I am sure it is equally true that peace-building between Israelis and Palestinians is going to need messy, risky compromises that start from where both sides really are - the sort that Arafat wouldn’t make. Abbas may have his faults, but he isn’t Arafat. Sharon is no angel, but he really did pull out of Gaza. Whilst I don’t claim there are any grounds for easy optimism, it seems to me your expectations lead to the conclusion that there is even less hope than there really is.