Harold Behr

Is it possible to negotiate with fanatics?

A former UK cabinet minister, Lord Hain, has come up with the view that the only way forward in the Middle East is for Israel to sit round a conference table with Hamas, Iran, Egypt and some other states in the region, in order to work out a political solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Hain cites the success of Britain’s negotiations with the IRA in hammering out the Good Friday Agreement after decades of futile violence.

This seems like a hopeless project in a field already littered with failed efforts to achieve a political solution. There is one fundamental difference between the IRA and Hamas. The IRA had a political goal in mind. It was not, as Hamas is, a death cult. Hamas exists for the purpose of destroying the Israeli state, killing the Jewish people and setting up an Islamic state along the lines of Afghanistan. It would create a nation ruled by fanatics whose barbarism would eliminate all other religious and belief systems, subject women to eternal submission and in effect, extinguish all tolerance for diversity, liberal thought and individual freedom. The regime in Iran shares that objective. The mindset of such fanatics will never countenance the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.

The history of the 20th century tells us how a fanatic came to power in Germany in the wake of the First World War, how, with a combination of terror and cunning he bludgeoned and bamboozled the miserably reduced German people into accepting his deluded ideology that the world was divided into superior and inferior races, how he duplicitously led naive statesmen into believing that he could be negotiated with and how, ultimately, he was responsible for the deaths of millions, including the murder of six million Jews.

Leaders of fanatical movements are not interested in making concessions. When their backs are to the wall, their only concern is to buy enough time to strengthen their power base in order to renew their deadly enterprises. To this end, they will resort to whatever lies and distortions will pull the wool over the eyes of those whom they regard as their enemies.

A seasoned and humane politician like Lord Hain should know this, yet he still argues for a round table conference at which Middle Eastern leaders, many of whom are fanatics with an ineradicable hostility towards the Jewish people, would be persuaded to engage in genuine peace talks with Israel.

The way forward is not to conjure up more conferences of leaders but to work from below upwards, to support collaborative enterprises being conducted by ordinary people disillusioned with their leaders and intent on repairing the damage done to their communities.

Most people, regardless of their religious or political persuasion, are fed up to the back teeth with their exploitation by ideologues who claim to have their interests at heart. The hope for the future lies in moderate-thinking Israelis and Palestinians coming together at grassroots level to heal the trauma inflicted on them by the fanatics at the helm.

There are now such collaborative efforts springing up like flowers blooming in a wilderness of desolation. We are hearing about joint social, cultural and health projects developing between groups of Israelis and Palestinians and it is these endeavours which deserve encouragement, not grandiose schemes to set up platforms on which fanatical leaders can practise their grandstanding techniques.

Lord Hain, who professes to be a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, would do well to lower his sights and use his political muscle to encourage the building of bridges between the common people. As soon as this enterprise reaches a critical threshold, the fanatics and extremists who presently hold sway will be pushed to the margins of society and their hate-filled ideologies will shrink into insignificance.

About the Author
I was born in South Africa in 1940 and emigrated to the U.K. in 1970 after qualifying in medicine. I held a post as Consultant Psychiatrist in London until my retirement in 2013. I am the author of two books: one on group analytic psychotherapy, one on the psychology of the French Revolution. I have written many articles on group psychology published in peer-reviewed journals. From 1979 to 1985 I was editor of the journal ‘Group Analysis’; I have contributed short pieces to psychology newsletters over the years.
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