Douglas Hurd was Foreign Secretary in the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major from 1989-1995.
He wrote that: “a principle does not cease to be a principle simply because it coincides with legitimate interest.” He was referring to allegations that the West was only interested in Kuwait and the Iraqi invasion because of Kuwaiti oil reserves. He then responded to the allegation that Israel and Iraq were similar cases. He refuted this by pointing out that Israel had “occupied the Territories as the result of a war in which her neighbors were clamoring for an end to Israel’s existence.” He continued, he did not believe that ‘occupation’ provided “a basis for Israeli security.”
An unintended consequence of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was that it complicated any possible solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict and highlighted the distance Palestinians needed to travel in order to become credible partners for peace. In response to Saddam Hussein’s insatiable colonialist belligerence towards his neighbors the Palestinian leadership whole-heartedly embraced Iraqi territorial aggression against sovereign Kuwait. And then, on 18th January 1991 Israel became a target for 39 modified Scud ballistic missiles fired at Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Israel reluctantly refrained from responding to this aggression. However a possible consequence of this military inaction was that 1991 became the year the Arab world understood that if it could not win a conventional hot war against the Jewish state then in its place, diplomatic pressure from the USA and Europe could be brought to bare in order to fatally undermine the resolve of the State to defend itself, even as its own interests were being progressively undermined. And this occurred through international organizations and the force of public demands for appeasing a partial or even a false anti-Zionist narrative.
The Palestinian leadership believes that it has no reason to make any meaningful concessions towards peaceful co-existence because it believes Israel cannot win a diplomatic war. For this reason alone, Israel cannot without end continue to negotiate a solution to its conflict with the Arab world while its enemy persists in the belief that through the force of international public opinion, it has time on its side.
The art of diplomacy is best served when the sides to a conflict prepare their populations for peace as vigorously as they prepare them for war. The problem faced by Israel is that in the period since the Olso Accords were signed in 1993 (Oslo I) and 1995 (Oslo II) there has never been a period of de-escalation or mutual recognition.
The Palestinians and their supporters in the West have always blamed Israel for refusing to freeze all building work in disputed territories. Oslo never stipulated any kind of ban on construction and even when Israel acquiesced to these conditions the Palestinian leadership remained indifferent to any Israeli overtures towards negotiation. Incitement, both religious and nationalist, became a means by which the Palestinians united their people against Israel while the kleptocracy within Palestinian society bled its own citizens without mercy. This was the reason that Hamas won elections in Gaza against Arafat’s Fatah party. With conditions of Palestinian corruption almost unchanged it is the reason that in Judea and Samaria the Palestinian Authority (PA) has failed to stage elections for a new President. The PA, like all corrupt institutions, is good at presenting cosmetic changes. Since January 2013 it has been renamed the State of Palestine. Mahmoud Abbas is six years and almost 6 months overdue in stepping down from office. But he and his family, like Yasser Arafat before him, have made sure to financially enrich both family and friends. With no other viable alternative, Hamas would easily win power from its apparently irredeemably corrupt Fatah rival.
And the Palestinian people, whether leaning towards Fatah or supporting Hamas, have learned since the Oslo process was formalised, that their Israeli enemy were apes pre-destined by the Arab god and his prophet Mohammed for extermination. If all the Palestinian leadership has imparted to its followers is that violent resistance is sanctioned by their faith against every Jewish man, woman and child, then it follows that Oslo was a waste of time, worse, it was a delusion that fruitlessly raised the hopes of both peoples. Alan Johnson wrote: “the veil of euphemism that hangs over the entire debate about Islam and its bigots must be lifted.” To that I would add: the veil of euphemism that hangs over the non-debate about the Arab world must also be lifted if ever there is to be a chance for peace.
The issue was best summarised by Left wing Israeli novelist and peace activist Amos Oz when he famously declared that Israel and Palestine were in need of divorce and not just separation.
After Israel transferred control over Palestinian cities to Yasser Arafat’s PA under the Oslo Accords, the PA used every tool at its disposal to incite hatred and to encourage an atmosphere of perpetual warfare. From children’s TV to school texts, radio programming to television, official government websites to religious instruction, from Mosque to theatre the PA has utilised every possible method to disseminate a message renouncing co-existence.
Instead of a paradigm shift towards demythologising its opponents a reflexive focus on grievance that treats any Palestinian concessions as illegitimate has emboldened a Palestinian world view that aims to create a new balance of power through delegitimizing any indigenous Jewish-Israeli rights.
De-escalation means words now and not just in a theoretical future. It signifies a time in the present of acceptance and tolerance. Mutual recognition is an absolute. It can never be a negotiating tactic to deny the culture and history of the other – but where contradictory narratives are intrinsic to the identity of the disputing rivals, mutual recognition demands an explanation of the discrepancies between the disparate narratives within the framework of creating understanding that facilitates an end to the conflict. This is where politicians and diplomats can and must prepare their people for peace. If they want it, that is.
There is nothing in the Muslim powerbase that is exercised so effectively against Israel at the United Nations or the Muslim agitation against Israel in Western countries to demonstrate any inclination towards de-escalation or towards mutual recognition. If anything, it is moving backwards towards a fascist, revisionist agenda and revanchism. Escalating Muslim immigration into the Western World and its concomitant growth in regional political power through influencing local voting patterns will only lead to greater antipathy being openly expressed towards Israel. The need for politicians to appease their local Muslim populations at the expense of the rest of the population has already happened throughout Scandinavia and France.
It should not be a question we even have to ask but why is this important when our enemies often use a sophist argument to brush aside our concerns? Too often we are told that when we give them what they want they will stop oppressing us. So what they claim is that racism and incitement to murder can be turned on and off like a tap. The fallacy in this specious argument was highlighted in a survey (see web link below) that demonstrated the long term negative effect that propaganda has on those educated towards hate.
Study: Nazi propaganda left life-long mark on German kids: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4668998,00.html
Natan Sharansky pointed out that “the power of a democratic government is ultimately dependent on the popular will.” He also said: “a critical difference between the world of fear and the world of freedom (is that) in the former, the primary challenge is finding the inner strength to confront evil. In the latter, the primary challenge is finding the moral clarity to see evil.” (The Case for Democracy. The Power of Freedom to overcome Tyranny and Terror.)
To paraphrase Omar Barghouti (the leading Arab anti-Israel activist): racist Arab colonialism has to be defeated by re-establishing ethical co-existence with all marginalized non-Arab nations (and therefore, not just Jews).
There are no anodyne solutions to the Muslim-Jewish and Israel-Arab conflict. If suspicion and mistrust are by-products of bad faith initiatives then undoing past wrongs has to begin with de-escalation and re-education in the present.
Machiavelli believed that diplomacy was no substitute for arms and money. His cynical world in which almost 500 years ago, to retain power the leader must kill or be killed is sometimes not that different to what happens today in different parts of the world. His belief that promises need not outlast the conditions that produce them was an escape clause that undermines international security.
But Machiavelli believed that good faith negotiations were generally desirable while the Palestinians view it as no more than a tactical expedient. Good faith negotiations are the greatest challenge facing Israel because besides the constant incitement there is no possibility of strategic depth being established between Israel and Palestine. Something else is needed to guarantee that the peace will not fall hostage to extremism.
And so, to return to British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd: ‘Occupation’ cannot ever provide a basis for security if a nation regards ethics as having any relevance to its national dialogue and to its identity. If the narrative around ‘occupation’ is incorrect then Israel has to do something about that narrative because almost the whole world believes the Palestinian side of the story, not ours. The longer this conflict continues the greater the despair will be felt by both sides. This can only increase polarization and make the possibility for peaceful co-existence recede into the distance. Israel is threatened by that despair as much as the Palestinians and it manifests itself in the violence of language in the Knesset, in the growing alienation and disquiet simmering under the surface of Israeli society. It manifests in the suspicion and fear felt by Israeli and Palestinian alike. And these terms are now toxic to both sides. Whether we accept the identity of our enemy as legitimate or not is fatuous. Its only value is served as propaganda and counter propaganda in denying each other an identity.
Israel needs peace as much as the PA and Gaza need peace. How we can reset the conditions for negotiation is the most important question Israel’s policy makers and diplomats should be asking.