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“Give us peace in our time, O Lord”. Does the
English language contain a more moving, more heart-felt — more heart-rending —
invocation? But when children are pulled out of the rubble and other children
cower in bomb shelters, it is more a matter of “Give us original sin in all
times”. Everyone
is calling for peace, and there is a sub-text in the messages delivered to the
Israelis: “What do you think that all this is achieving?”

The
Israelis have an answer. Hamas is their implacable foe, committed to the destruction
of Israel. Why should they wait to fight at their enemy’s convenience? They
have a point, but so do their pro-Israeli Western critics. On the one hand, it
does seem that a lot of the current Israeli strikes have hit their intended
targets. The formidable success of Israel's high-tech industries is manifesting
itself in an enhanced capacity for smart warfare. On the other hand, when the
latest fighting ends, Gaza will still be there. Even if the Hamas leadership
has been decapitated, there will be a reservoir of embitterment. Humiliation
and defeat are potent recruiting sergeants. However often the Israelis win,
there is no sign that they will ever deter.


That
could be the toxic foundation of future tragedy. Let us make the likeliest
assumption. There will be no peace deal between the Israelis and the
Palestinians, merely an endless cycle of talks, intifadas on the West Bank,
violence in Gaza, more violence on the Lebanese frontier. The Israelis will
also continue to alter the facts on the ground, by extending the settlements,
thus making it even harder to set up a viable Palestinian state. Deep below
Freud's reality principle, in the Israeli pleasure-principle zone, is the hope
that one day the Palestinians will simply up sticks and flee across the Jordan:
problem solved. Although it is
true that an endless continuation of conflict could bring down the Hashemite
Monarchy, that would not lead to the ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. It
would merely establish a new ally for militants and terrorists.

Let
us also assume that it will become easier and easier to make weapons of mass
destruction, and to miniaturise them. Will the murderous fanatics of the future
content themselves with blowing up a bus stop in Tel Aviv, when they could
destroy half the city?

There
is no easy solution to this problem. If the Israelis did a deal with Palestine
tomorrow, there would still be deep wells of hatred. But: imagine a Palestinian
state on the West Bank, including almost all the pre-1967 territories, apart
from those which have been absorbed in the Jerusalem suburbs. In exchange for
moderation, it would receive large amounts of international aid, including
funds for transport links with Gaza. The current Jordanian system would
survive. All the governments would have an incentive to co-operate in curbing
terrorism.

Apropos
of Jordan, that wise and good man Prince Hassan has a favourite phrase, which
applies to the whole region: “We live in a dangerous neighbourhood”. If peace
broke out tomorrow, many people would hate it. The bomb and the bullet are good
antidotes to the peace-makers’ endeavours. But there would be a chance. Without
a deal, ultimately, there is no chance. Sooner or later, the dangerous
neighbourhood would find a sort of peace, when it drowned in blood.

************

“Give us peace in our time, O Lord” is especially appropriate now that Advent
is approaching. This Christmas, one man might have expected to enjoy the festivities
around his own hearth-rug with his wife and children; all the more poignant, no
doubt, after the number of Christmases which he has spent abroad, serving his
country in hardship and in danger. Instead, as matters stand, Sergeant Danny
Nightingale will spend Christmas in prison.

The
whole affair will strengthen millions of people in their growing conviction
that this country is going insane. It is hard to overestimate the damage that
an event like this does to public confidence. Sergeant Nightingale deserves to
be released to a hero’s welcome, now. Someone must get a grip and do it.

***********

Another, even more eminent, soldier has been in trouble and it will be harder
to organise his hero's welcome. General David Petraeus has done some service to
the state and is still needed. It is vexing that his career has been ended by a
peccadillo. We can only be thankful that the same rules did not prevent Admiral
Nelson from saving and dying for his country.

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