I recently went to Israel. At this critical juncture in the peace talks and the history of the region, I was interested in the views of ordinary Israelis on the prospects of the peace process succeeding. I myself am very sceptical about its possible success. Most Israelis that I spoke to seemed to have given up on a successful outcome and have deep distrust of the Abbas administration. They are quite happy to leave things as they are.
Jerusalem, a highly contentious issue, was an issue the Israelis I spoke to have deep concerns about. Jerusalem in all likelihood is a city that without being divided will prevent the Palestinians from signing a deal. Any division of Jerusalem must go to a national referendum and be approved by the public. But the people I spoke to said they would vote against such an outcome. They believed that Abbas would seek to limit Jewish movement in the city, for example by preventing Jews from praying at the Western Wall. They stressed how central Jerusalem was to Jewish life and Israel. For them, the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 and the access to Jewish sites within it was something hard won at great sacrifices after thousands of years. It was not something they were happy to entrust to a Palestinian President for whom they hold deep suspicions. Even now, there are tensions in Jerusalem which I personally witnessed. When travelling on the number one bus to the Old City a rock was thrown at us as we passed through an Arab neighbourhood narrowly missing the window but causing a lot of fear amongst the passengers. The security guard said that this was becoming a regular occurrence. This proves that dividing Jerusalem would be impossible as it would further decrease the security of Jews visiting the holy sites which even now, under Israeli sovereignty, is not watertight.
These Israelis also expressed to me their fears about Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank ending up in a similar result to that of Gaza. They feared a Hamas takeover of the West Bank shortly after the signature of a deal (a result most polls predict). Yet, unlike Gaza, the West Bank would be under a mile from central Israel. They did not believe that a peace deal would mean peace, rather that it would mean a greater strategic advantage for Hamas in their bid to eradicate the State of Israel and terrorise its population.
They believed that the Palestinian Authority were still not signing up to crucial preconditions that signified that they were really interested in an end to conflict and peaceful coexistence. Foremost amongst these was the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish State. They still thought that this revealed that even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, Abbas would not be happy with that situation. They believed, that just like for Hamas, the creation of a Palestinian state would represent not an acceptance of Israel but just another step on their way to eradicate it. These Israelis in Netanya, just six miles away from the border of a future Palestinian state, feared that instead of looking up to clear skies whilst on the beach they would be looking up to falling rockets. The memories of past terrorist attacks in Netanya run deep. Considering that tourism is such a big part of the Israeli economy, their fears of not just the security threat but the economic threat of Hamas rockets seems justified. According to them, Palestinian nationalism was not primarily about independence but something, drawing on the legacy of the Grand Mufti in the 1930s, that’s main goal was to prevent Jews living in the land.
In Britain, we all hope for a deal. But what I encountered when I spoke to Israelis was a deep seated fear about the impacts of such a deal for their security. They don’t believe a deal will actually bring peace, but instead to place them in a great deal more of danger. The whole thing boils down to what I saw and heard 30 years ago whilst visiting Jaffa. A large Mercedes pulled up and four Palestinian Arabs got out dressed in what appeared in Armani suits and covered with gold chains. They were obviously very prosperous and I told them a fib saying that I was not Jewish and worked for the British press. I then asked them individually what they thought of living under Jewish control when obviously they were doing so well for themselves. All of them pointed to the sea and said that they would like to see the water running red with Jewish blood. This answer shocked me but when I sent this as an article to various papers I was told that it was not appropriate at the time to print such a thing. This surely sums up the crux of my whole article. The Palestinians need to compromise in order for there to be peace. If a portion remains amongst them who will not accept the right of Israel to exist and oppose this violently, Israelis will continue to hold deep reservations about the peace process.