One local effect of the conflict we are seeing between Israel and Hamas (alongside the other armed Palestinians factions in Gaza) is a tribalistic pressure upon people to “support their side.” For example I have been harangued on social media by other Muslims demanding that I condemn Israel’s conduct, but no Muslims have called upon me to criticise Hamas’s conduct. I suspect that Jewish peace advocates have come under similar pressure from other Jews to condemn Hamas’s conduct but experienced no pressure from other Jews to criticise Israel’s conduct.
When a British Muslim or a British Jew condemns the conduct of Israel or Hamas respectively, no matter how sincerely, they automatically invite the Mandy Rice Davies response: “He would, [say that] wouldn’t he?” Nobody’s understanding of the issues is advanced one iota when they hear Muslims criticising Israel, or hear Jews criticising Hamas.
Accordingly I will leave it to British Jews, and Britons who are neither Muslim nor Jewish, to criticise Israel’s conduct of its military operations in Gaza, and its prior conduct during periods of quiet. Instead I want to share two points:
- My perspective on Hamas.
- My recommendations for our Government’s policy regarding the Israel / Palestine issue.
My perspective on Hamas
I felt optimistic in 2006 when Hamas won the Palestinian election. My hope, perhaps naïve, was that Hamas was better placed to make peace with Israel than Fatah, just as it was easier for Nixon to go to China than it would have been for a Democrat. At that time I had not read Hamas’s charter.
The Hamas Charter, adopted in 1988, is a profoundly depressing document. As well as regurgitating the same anti-Semitic fabrications as are found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Charter rejects the idea that any part of the land of Palestine can ever be controlled other than by Muslims. Accordingly Hamas is dedicated to armed struggle until Israel is destroyed.
Although as the Guardian in 2006 explained Hamas left the destruction of Israel out of its 2006 election manifesto to the best of my knowledge Hamas has never stated that it believes in peace with Israel. I understand that the most that it has ever offered Israel is an extended truce. A truce is something that is normally followed by the resumption of hostilities.
With its commitment to the destruction of Israel, Hamas has nothing to offer Palestinians other than the misery of permanent war. It needs to either revise its Charter, drastically, or to dissolve itself.
My recommendations for UK Government policy
The outline for the only kind of permanent peace agreement that can preserve the character of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority has been clear for over a decade. That is the two-state solution.
I wrote about it in December 2008 in my first piece about the Middle East during operation Cast Lead “Gaza and the need for peace now.” It is also the only solution realistically attainable for the Palestinians, since Israel is not going to disappear voluntarily, and nuclear armed powers cannot be conquered militarily.
The intervening years have demonstrated that both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are unwilling to make the sacrifices that a achieving the two-state solution requires.
- Over decades, Israel has built settlements on the West Bank, all of which are illegal. Our Government is clear about the illegality at this link. (“The UK has a clear position on Israeli settlements: The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights are territories which have been occupied by Israel since 1967. Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible. We will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.”) Israel has also purported to annex the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Achieving peace will require Israel to withdraw from most of the West Bank, and to offer to trade land of equivalent value for any West Bank land retained. Most emotively Israel will also need to agree a special status for the holy places in Jerusalem, a city which is holy to 2bn Christians and 1.5bn Muslims as well as 14m Jews and accept that Palestinians will also have their capital in Jerusalem.
- For decades Palestinians who fled or were expelled in 1948 have clung on to their “right of return.” In a peace agreement they will have to accept that they are never going to have the right to return to live inside Israel. It is no more feasible for them to return to Israel than it is for the similar number of Jews who were expelled from Arab countries after Israel was created to return to those countries. This abandonment of the Palestinian refugees’ hope of return will need assuaging with monetary compensation and citizenship rights in the countries where they now live for those who do not wish to move to the West Bank or Gaza.
Sadly, but perhaps understandably, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have repeatedly shied away from telling their people the truth that a permanent peace is not possible without such concessions. It is always easier to put off difficult decisions, and focus on why the immediate circumstances are not conducive to agreeing peace.
Since 2002, the Quartet of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia has allegedly been mediating the Middle East peace process. It has failed to achieve anything meaningful, in my view because too much responsibility has been left to the USA.
Unfortunately, the power of the Israel Lobby (discussed in “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” by Mearsheimer and Walt) has meant that the USA has failed to exercise the leverage that it has over Israel. Nor do the Palestinians regard the USA as a neutral interlocutor. Hence US led peace negotiations have gone nowhere.
Our Government needs to be more active itself in the search for Middle East peace, and to encourage the EU to wield its considerable economic power to influence both parties. In my view the Quartet needs to lay down a detailed peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians to accept or reject, just as the UN did with its 1947 Partition Resolution. If one of the parties does reject the Quartet plan, that party should face economic sanctions.