It is easy, all to easy, for Obama and John Kerry to spout platitudes about the quest for peace in the Middle East. On the ground in Israel, surrounded by enemies and barraged by threats and promises of genocide, delusion is a luxury an encircled nation cannot afford to indulge
I’m socially reticent except where dancing is concerned. Show me people dancing and I have an irresistible urge to join in. Artlessly it is true but not in a shy way. The sun sets on Friday evening in front of the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) in East Jerusalem. Shabbat begins as does the joyous dancing and singing. Young soldiers with M16s slung over their shoulders are part of the revelry. Circles form, arms on shoulders. I’m invited in. No need to ask twice.
I take time out to pray against the Wall. I’m a Christian. It doesn’t matter. I’m praying to the same God, in the same vicinity, as did Jesus.
If anyone is delusional enough to think that Israel will give up any part of Jerusalem they should visit the Wailing Wall on Shabbat. There is no chance of Israel ever giving up a square foot. This realty underscores my theme of ‘clarity in extremis’, informed by a visit to Israel organised by Shurat HaDin.
Shurat HaDin is a non-profit Israeli law group, directed by (the lovely and resolute) Nitsana Darshan-Leitner. They follow the money and use legal action, often in American courts, to degrade the funding of Islamic terrorism. More generally, they use the courts to combat efforts on the part of the left (and assorted useful idiots) to undermine Israel. They are active in combating the disgraceful and disingenuous BDS campaign. (Refer, for example, to their case against Professor Jake Lynch of Sydney University.) And, in 2011, they successfully ‘torpedoed’ the intended second Gaza flotilla.
A seven-day mission in Israel, however intensive and instructional, does not an expert make. Nevertheless, you would have to be extremely obtuse — John Kerry comes to mind — not to recognise a problem without a solution when it’s been laid bare time after time; negotiation after negotiation. Yet, Kerry is not alone. The pie-in-the-sky two-state solution is still the common currency of discourse among politicians and commentators in the world outside of Israel. The disconnection between this solution and the facts on the ground is stark.
Recall President Obama’s reference in 2011 to the 1967 (pre Six-Day War) borders as a starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. These borders are otherwise known as the ‘Green Line’. No wonder Netanyahu got mad at such crass naiveté. Alfei Menashe is on the Green Line. It is high enough that Tel Aviv is visible in the distance; just 16 km away as a modern artillery shell flies. No need for longer-range rockets.
Leave aside the existential threat. Dismantling Jewish towns and villages beyond the Green Line would mean relocating 120,000 people. Moving just 8000 settlers from Gaza caused massive social and political problems and cost US$30 billion in compensation alone.
Stand on Mount Bental on the Golan Heights and look down at Syria. Imagine Syrian guns (or ISIS guns) on those same Heights looking down on Israel. It would be untenable and there is no possibility of this territory being given up. Israel’s survival is at stake. It is as simple as that.
Visit Misav Am, a front-line Kibbutz on the Lebanese border. Or, more correctly, on the Hezbollah border. Be greeted by two grizzled, full-bearded, heavy-set guys with holstered revolvers. ‘I don’t hate anyone,’ one said. ‘But I don’t have to hate someone to shoot him if he threatens me. We are not intimidated, not afraid and not running from anybody. You can’t live in fear.’ That sums up what Israel is about and what it is up against. And it absolutely constrains what they will ever be prepared to give up.
Jew to God: Why have you been so good to us giving us this land of milk and honey?
God to Jew: Wait till you see the neighbours I have given you.
Numbers of briefings on the mission underscore the intractable gap between the two sides. Opinions maybe, but they have that unmistakeable ring of truth. Among others, Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland sketches the Israeli and Palestinian positions.
For Israelis, a Palestinian state would be a new launching pad for terrorism and war. If there is any doubt about this being right, look at the map. Israel has Lebanon (read Hezbollah) to its north; Syria to its north-east and Gaza (read Hamas) to its south west. Its Jordanian border is its most secure; even with a more benign Egypt to its south under President el-Sisi. Now put a new Palestinian state on the west bank of the Jordan River, running all the way down Israel’s eastern side. Palestinians would have to go through some peaceful metamorphosis of unparalleled proportions for that to be acceptable to Israel.
For Palestinians, any peace process will eventually be undone because of their pathological attachment to their right of return to ‘occupied lands’. Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab-Israeli journalist, puts it poignantly. Palestinian leaders have become ‘hostage to their own rhetoric …They have radicalised Palestinians and demonised the Jews.’
Hamas’s position is that everything taken in 1948 has to be given back. And the more ‘moderate’ option, which may be acceptable to Fatah under Abbas, of a return of Israel to its pre-1967 borders, will be sellable only if it comes with the caveat (whispered in Arabic) of being the first installment. But even this is effectively a non-starter.
Abbas has no mandate. He is in the tenth year of a four-year term and can’t afford to hold an election; nor even can he visit his own house in Gaza for fear of assassination. He is undoubtedly thankful for Israel’s settlement activity which allows him an excuse to walk away from negotiations. Without the settlements he would have to invent a new pretext.
John Kerry suffers from the profound misconception that there is someone on the Palestinian side who can deliver peace with Israel; and this view he apparently maintains after thirteen fruitless visits. A definition of insanity attributed to Einstein comes to mind: ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.
It is telling; according to Toameh, that when Ariel Sharon led Israel out of Gaza in 2005 no-one within Gaza viewed it as anything else but an Israeli retreat. And the lesson taken was to keep pressing and make Israel retreat again. It should be clear — except to the dimwitted — that nothing short of Israel’s demise will satisfy the Palestinians. Equally, Israelis cannot afford to make material concessions to people who hate them and who mean to destroy them if given get half a chance. The gap is unbridgeable.
General Avigdor Kahalani, a hero of the Yom Kippur War, related a conversation he’d had with a Palestinian terrorist.
“There will be one country from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River!”
“And what happens to the Jews?”
“The Jews will be sent back from where they came.”
“And what of me who was born here?”
“You have a problem”.
And he meant it, Kahalani added.
The lesson is that there is no black and white outcome in prospect; only the grey of the status quo. What is the status quo? It is both Israelis and Palestinians pretending that a two-state solution is possible and the outside world naively believing that it is. And, by the way, there is no other solution.
Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, tellingly points out that ‘Arab nations know something about Palestinians’. Jordan annexed the West Bank between 1948 and 1967, but wouldn’t have it back now. Equally, Egypt is content to leave Gaza as an Israeli problem. The Palestinians are a cause without concrete sponsors in the Arab world; i.e., those willing to ‘walk the walk not just talk the talk’. Only those of the mindless left in the West are firmly onside.
In the meantime, while the world, including Obama and Kerry, worries incessantly about Israel and the Palestinians, Mark Regev, spokesman for Netanyahu, explains that Israel has something more serious to worry about. Being in the firing line evidently produces clarity as distinct from the muddled thinking of the disengaged. Iran has thousands of centrifuges (none of which is required to produce nuclear energy), a heavy water reactor, and is developing ICBMs. What part of that clear intent to acquire nuclear weapons don’t the representatives of the P5+1 understand?
I suppose Neville Chamberlain’s piece of paper is evidence that most of our current political leaders have not regressed. They are simply as simple-minded as they ever were, in refusing to believe that despots and extremists actually mean to do what they make perfectly clear they intend doing.
Presumably Israel will act at some point in the near future. Otherwise, if action is left to Obama, we face a medieval religious regime armed with nuclear weapons. Moreover, as an inevitable aftermath, we face nuclear proliferation occurring throughout the most unstable region in the world. However, there is nothing at all to worry about unless, of course, you are concerned about a mad mullah, ISIS or Al-Qaida with an A-Bomb.
Life on a permanent front line must concentrate the mind. We were told that the city of Sderot on the edge of Gaza has had 28,000 rockets fired at it in the past fourteen years. People have a fifteen-second warning. Imagine if you have two young children in bed to gather up when the warning comes. In the face of this onslaught, Israel combines resilience with a moral compass. What other country if attacked in this way would give advanced warning of its own response and take such care to avoid civilian casualties? Consider the opposition.
When I was in Jerusalem, four rabbis were butchered in a West-Jerusalem synagogue. I heard about this first through the online Liverpool (UK) Echo. Rabbi Goldberg, one of those killed, was a Liverpool lad, as am I. It brought home the barbarity of Islamists and their ambition — underpinned by their scripture — to create a caliphate, wind back progress, and to bring on a new Dark Age. Seemingly only Israel, among the democracies, fully grasps this.
I gain no confidence from Obama or Kerry. Netanyahu gives me confidence. Those men in the Misav Am Kibbutz give me confidence as do the 26-year-old fighter pilot, the 20-year-old tank commander, the 21-year-old second lieutenant, and the young woman regular soldier who we met. And to echo Churchill in saying in 1899 that science had saved Christendom from Muslim conquest, Israel science might help save Israel. Those Nobel Prizes say something about Jewish ingenuity.
In a sense Israel stands alone. It is not America Alone, as Mark Steyn argues. It is Israel alone because of the clarity that being on the front line brings. They understand the threat not only to Israel but to the world.
This essay is getting too long so I will end with something from Ettinger: ‘When you hear an Islamist talking about a right of return, think of Spain not Israel’.