Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.
We fought by their rules and we won, said the settler leader. They were happy to fight us in 1948, ’67, ’73, and 2000. We left Lebanon and we got missiles. We left Gaza and got rockets. We left the cities in the West Bank and got suicide bombers. Land for peace? We gave away land, and got no peace. They think we’re crusaders; soon gone. The Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem lasted 130 years. We’ve only been here for 66.
So goes the harsh logic of the New Israeli Jacobins.There’s much logic there, and not a little justice. How many times, they ask, “do we have to establish our right to exist? What other country, has to put up with this?”
This goes down well enough with part of the Israeli public, which won’t trust “the Arabs” – this section of opinion doesn’t condescend to precisely identify “Palestinians.” It of course glosses over the settlements and the daily indignities of living under occupation: if it confronts them at all, it takes them to be justified – as a security requirement (occupation) or as punishment (as when more settlements were proposed this week as a reprisal for the murder of three Israeli teenagers), but every one of its components is true, and the conclusions of its logic clear.
They don’t like us, we don’t like them. The best we can do is get it over with. Peace is an illusion.
It’s the logic of permanent war.
And permanent war has served the settlers well. To establish villages among hostile Palestinians connected to Israeli territory by narrow, dangerous roads, just because the Bible insists, say, that Abraham had once lived there is a mad and provocative luxury unsuited to the ears of practically minded Israelis concerned with life in the present. But if there’s no hope of peace; if, as Hamas never fail to remind them, “the Jews” (they never use the term “Israelis”, though will occasionally stoop to “Zionists”) are to be driven out as the pieds noirs were from Alegeria, then why object to their building and growth? There’s little to lose, and, after all, a measure of security to gain. If the Arab states ever attacked again – implausible now (but who knows how far ISIS will go) – they would have to get past the settlements first.
Permanent war has served the Jacobin Israeli politicians well, from the sincerely fanatical Nafthali Bennet to the corpulent opportunist Avigdor Lieberman, and the rabble-rousing Opposition-Netanyahu (so different from the cautious-to-the-point-of-cowardice-Government-Netanyahu).
Actual war, in the past weeks, appeared to get closer. Though this column has pronounced the “unity” agreement between Fatah and Hamas evidence of Abbas’s ascendancy, my view is far from universally held. It may be more of a “ronseal deal” to signal Palestinian radicalisation. When three Israeli boys were kidnapped two weeks ago, it seemed as though they might have been right. Had Hamas discovered a new tactic to outfox Israel’s excellent missile defences?
As it turned out that the boys had been murdered straight away, and not kidnapped, and later killed, pressure to “do something” mounted. Huge new settlements (blocked by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni) were proposed; and an invasion of Gaza was mooted, the latter by Lieberman himself, despite it having no reasonable military objective.
Then it all changed with the grisly murder (he appears to have been burned alive) of Mohamed Abu Kheir, a sixteen year old Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem. Six Jewish extremists have now been arrested, sparking off rioting in Israeli Arab towns and in certain Orthodox jewish districts of Jerusalem.
The effects of the logic of permanent war begin to be felt.
20 per cent of Israel’s population is Arab. Their sense of identity is complex, particularly for Palestinian-Israelis, as opposed to Druse and Bedouin Arabs. Even if the discrimination they suffer can be mitigated, Israel can never quite be their country, though they have no other. They certainly don’t want to be part of a Palestinian state, and in general denounce Lieberman’s attempts to “transfer” some areas in which they predominate into one. Permanent war would be catastrophic for them, and for an Israel that knows it ought to treat them as equals.
Rightists, despite their hostility to Arabs whom they consider against all serious evidence to be a fifth column, have felt forced to rush out improbable statements in defence of equality before the law and displace their ire towards Gaza, now obligingly aiming rockets at cities in Israel’s south. The worst appears for now to have been avoided.
Jacobin Israel has for now drawn in its claws. Today Lieberman pulled his party out of its merger with Netanyahu’s Likud, though, crucially, not the coalition government. He remains inside the pantomime camel coalition because the parliamentary arithmetic would allos another, of the centre-left, to take its place. It would pursue a pragmatic peace, full of compromises, devoid of single-minded logic, and perhaps determined to dismantle the settlement movement and the hatred it incites, which its likely members may now have been jolted into seeing as an acute threat to democratic Israel’s survival.