Peter John Beyfus

Israel-Palestine: Time for a serious rethink

With pro-Palestinian protests taking place in major cities across the globe, what do the placards and flag-waving tell us about the mindset of these demonstrators? Slogans such as “Free Palestine”, “Liberate Palestine” and “From the River to the Sea” reinforce the idea that Israel has no right to exist and nearly 6.8 million Jews should up-sticks and live somewhere else, denying them the right to a sovereign state. And how is this demand for an end to Jewish self-determination to be achieved, by asking the majority of the population of Israel to simply leave, or from the more offensive mantras that have been recorded, to face extermination at the hands of Islamist fanatics? What was evident from the footage of the major demonstration in London, numbering 100,000, was the absence of any sign calling for the release of over 200 Israeli hostages, abducted by Hamas terrorists. No call for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, by demanding a homeland for the Palestinians; just the eradication of a sovereign Jewish state, to be replaced with what? Certainly not a democracy; certainly not a place where civil rights are protected; certainly not a land that will prosper; certainly not a country espousing liberal values. 

The bad news for these blinked protestors is the Israelis are going nowhere. Unlike Hamas and other Iranian proxies around the world, Israel is interested in a just peace, has made countless overtures to move the peace process forward, only to be thwarted, time and again, by those Palestinians who are not prepared to compromise. As I said in my previous blog, the handing over by Israel of Gaza in 2005, was a golden opportunity for the then PLO to demonstrate its good intentions in working with Israel toward a comprehensive peace settlement. The PLO was driven out by Hamas in 2006 and that terrorist organisation has been the de facto ruler of Gaza ever since. The West Bank under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas has been ineffective in brokering a settlement with Israel; I suspect fearful of the pressure exerted by Hamas, and more concerned about his political survival than the welfare of the Palestinians. 

It is difficult to assess exactly what Israel’s long term plans are for Gaza, that can only be described as a running sore. Clearly the IDF have been tasked to clear the strip of terrorists’ infrastructure, driving Hamas out in the hope that a more moderate regime will replace it, perhaps the PLO will reassert control: that’s speculative, of course. There has been a statement from the Israeli government that all ties with Gaza will end; the future of the strip will no longer be the responsibility of Israel, that currently provides many main services, and employment for Gazans. A demilitarized buffet zone has been suggested that would afford greater protection to the inhabitants of Israel. The latest outrage on 7 October has hardened Israel, and many ordinary Israelis feel enough is enough. There can be no going back to the status quo; this has become a matter of the survival of the Jewish People.

There is talk, yet again, of a two-state solution. This was always an aspirational proposal, based on a genuine desire for peace on both sides of the divide. Sadly, wars, initiated by Israel’s Arab neighbors, have made negotiations increasingly difficult. The originators of the idea of separate Jewish and Palestinian states, that was the essence of the Peel Commission report of 1937,  would not recognize what has happened in the last 86 years. Is talk of separate states possible? Yes, anything is possible but not with the Palestinians being led by extremists. Even if Israel achieves its prime objective in either destroying Hamas or weakening it so it no longer functions as an effective political and military force, there are a host of other groups that are not prepared to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist, who believes in an armed struggle and who are not motivated by genuine concerns for the future welfare of Palestinians. 

So is there any prospect of resolving this tragedy? To say categorically no, is the counsel of despair, but what other options are worth considering? One is the creation of a pluralist state, in which Israelis and Palestinians live together, with equal rights. This, of course, destroys the present status of Israel as the only Jewish state, something very dear to many Jews, Zionists or not. Another radical suggestion is looking to establish a Palestinian homeland elsewhere. Is it conceivable a portion of Sinai could be purchased and the Palestinians settled there? It wasn’t that many years ago that such thinking was being applied to the Jewish People. A number of countries were considered by Theodore Herzl, including the Uganda Scheme that  was proposed by the British colonist Joseph Chamberlain. Is it such a crazy idea to suggest Palestinian live in an area close to their Arab brothers, and Sinai could be the answer. 

About the Author
Peter John Beyfus is an historian, published author, poet, and a person who prides himself on “thinking outside the box”. I have written many essays on Jewish themes, published in various journals, including ‘Wessex Jewish News’ and ‘Westminster Quarterly’, the magazine of Westminster Synagogue, London.
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