Doubtless if Israel and the Palestinians were able to reach a peaceful accommodation, with the blessing of the international community, Britain’s anti-Israel, anti-Semitic fringe would condemn it. The deal would be seen as an America/French imposed plot designed to entrench a colonial past. So deeply inculcated is the anti-Zionist narrative on Britain’s left and in sections of the Labour Party shifting attitudes, deep seated prejudices and ignorance will be impossible to shift.
Efforts for instance to point out that Israeli is the most socially liberal society in the Middle East, a polyglot nation where Arab rights (most of the time) are respected fall on deaf ears. It is a description which fails to chime with a malign world view. Nor do they really want to hear about human rights abuses in Syria and Iran when they can focus on alleged misdeeds by Israeli soldiers. Never mind that in Israeli it is possible for the Israeli chief of staff Yair Golan to speak on Yom HaShoah of ‘intolerance’ and ‘fear mongering’ in Israeli society. And for military leaders to conduct full inquiries into all alleged misdeed by members of the IDF. The intolerance of the anti-Zionist left is that it closes its ears to realities on the ground.
None of this is reason to dismiss peace initiatives from wherever they may come. The cool relations between Israel and the Palestinians since the last talks broke down in 2014 has been far from civilised. Since September 2015 Palestinian assailants have killed some 30 Israeli citizens and soldiers in more than 300 attacks according to official Israel figures. More than 200 Palestinians, mainly alleged attackers, have been killed by Israeli security forces say the Palestinians.
Binyamin Netanyahu has been distinctly cool to the President Hollande of France’s effort to breathe some life back into the peace process in the MidEast with a conference of foreign ministers to be held in Paris. The Israeli Prime Minister’s office is adamant that talks must be direct between the parties Israel and the Palestinian Authority and unconditional. The surprise is that the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been hands-off since his last peace initiative, wants to be there. It is not clear why France is so keen on revitalising the peace process. But Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who has been in Israel, makes it clear that the status quo works against the ‘Israelis, Palestinians and peace.’
He might add something else. The current status quo does nothing to calm the anti-Israel rhetoric in Britain and Europe which breeds anti-Semitism in France and the UK and often enters the Jihadist rhetoric. One can understand Jerusalem’s reluctance to become involved. It fears a stitch up especially as the Palestinians are so enthusiastic about the French approach.
The Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah observes, not without some truth, that the last round of negotiations with the Israeli government were ‘ineffective and redundant.’ He argues that the Paris talks, if and when they go ahead, could be followed by an international conference which would set a timetable for negotiations and a withdrawal of Israeli forces from disputed territory.
In spite of Israeli scepticism the initiative is gathering momentum. The return of the Americans to the fray, the only intermediary trusted in Jerusalem, must be regarded as plus. Relations between Israel and the Obama White House have been a low ebb as a result of the Iranian nuclear deal. The odds aren’t good but there is long history of American presidents, unencumbered by the need to run for office again, looking for a foreign policy coup in the last months in office. They have the time, energy and political incentive to secure a place in history.
A second reason not to be dismissed is the involvement of President el-Sisi of Egypt. He recently made a powerful appeal for the Israel and the Palestinians to settle their differences and called on Jerusalem’s political parties to unite behind the cause. An alternative to Paris or follow-on from the foreign ministers gathering could be a regional conference.
Egypt’s strongman president may not be everyone in the West’s favourite leader. However, he has been instrumental in closing down the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, through which weapons travel. Both Israel and Egypt have a common interest in closing down what is perceived as rising Islamic State/ISIS influence and presence in Sinai.
The prospect of Avigdor Liebermann joining the Netanyahu government as defence minister might be seen by many as the death knell of any constructive peace talks. Technically, he is on the record as favouring a two state solution to the Middle East conflict. It is also worth remembering that the further right the administration in Israel is perceived to be the better chance it has of carrying the Knesset and the Israel people with it.
It was after all Menachem Begin who delivered Israel’s peace with Egypt that has now survived four decades and countless changes in both countries. When it comes to Israel-Palestine one can never be optimistic. At least, however, there is at last some movement.