FEATURE: Land or peace?

Talking to the enemy

The conflict with the Arabs has cast a long shadow over Israel’s history. In the Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, on 14 May 1948, the founding fathers extended their hand in peace to all the neighbouring states and their peoples. Today, Israel is still at war with Syria and Lebanon and locked into a bitter conflict with the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank. The explanation that Israelis usually give for the failure to achieve peace in the Middle East can be summed up in two words: Arab intransigence. Israel’s image of itself is that of a decent, rational, peace-loving nation that resorts to military power in self-defence only. The image of the Arabs, on the other hand, is that of a fanatical, hostile enemy that understands only the language of force. The reality is more complex.

The general picture that emerges of Israeli statecraft in the first 60 years of statehood is one of routine, often unthinking reliance on military force and a reluctance to engage in meaningful diplomacy to resolve the conflict with its neighbours. Another trait, common to Labour and Likud leaders alike, is a blind spot when it comes to the Palestinian people and a desire to bypass them by concluding bilateral deals with the rulers of the neighbouring Arab states. [complete article]

The power network

The seven-and-a-half-year vacuum in Arab- Israeli peacemaking under George W Bush ends next January. Bush refused to play ball, but he wouldn’t let anyone else on the field: not the UN, not Russia, not the European Union. The only legacies he leaves his successor to build upon are secret, deniable talks among intelligence agencies and the familiar engagement of violence.

Israel’s public posture has always been that it would never speak with those who did not recognise its “right to exist”. Putting aside the obvious fact that “right to exist” is meaningless in international law, Israel has talked for years with those who did not recognise it. It had contacts with King Hussein of Jordan, and it warned the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Sudan of plots in 1977 to overthrow their regimes. It sold arms to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and it talked to the PLO for years before Yitzhak Rabin met Yasser Arafat at the White House. It has spoken through mediators to Hamas and Hezbollah. It is now talking to Syria, through Turkey and various independent peacemakers, though Syria assists Hezbollah and Hamas. Nothing will come of this, as the Syrian president now admits, without US involvement. And Washington does not want to get involved. [complete article]

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