Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’


Shimon says: “The choice of Israel is peace”

February 2, 2009

Shimon Peres, Israel’s current president, has been at the heart of everything major that has happened in the Middle East for fifty years. He probably knows the conflict better than anyone else still alive.

Here the old man of Israeli politics speaks with great force at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in response to Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan (who walked out following Peres’ speech).

A lot of fire, a lot of passion, a bit of anger. I agreed with every word.

And we never gave up, all my life as you said, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate it, I am fighting for peace, what we did is not…the thing that we wanted to do… It’s not our choice, our choice is peace. What we did is because the lack of a choice, we were threatened with a choice. Would you vote for such a convention, to kill the Jews? OK, those are words, but to kill the Jews and send rockets to kill them. What you want us to do?

I created the Peres Center, all the money we have collected went to the cure of children. Palestinian children. They didn’t have insurance, they didn’t have hospitals, in five years we have brought to Israel 5500 Palestinian children and their mothers to be cured. By the way, there is no hospital today in Israel that does not have Arab doctors, so the children can communicate with the doctors in the Israeli hospitals. That is our choice, to touch a child. But if you put a child, if you put bombs in the kindergarten, and if you hide yourselves behind innocent families, and before we shell, we, before we try to shell anybody, we try and telephone the people, we say, please leave the place. We don’t want to hurt you. We made during those twenty days, 250,000 telephone calls before we shoot. What could we do, what was our choice? And what would any government do?

Thanks to Elder of Ziyon for the transcript, but you really have to watch it, and hear it. Not the best English, perhaps, but this is real eloquence: unforced, from the heart.

Skip forward to the 39th minute.


Israel, Palestine and Gaza: Part II – UPDATED

January 5, 2009

This is the second of the series ‘Israel, Palestine and Gaza’.  The first can be found here.

It is an attempt to address the challenge that I get, whenever I try to defend Israel anywhere on the blogosphere, to come up with a workable solution to the conflict instead of ‘blindly supporting Israel whatever it does’ (which I don’t).

It is of course an extraordinarily presumptuous post.  It is hardly necessary to say that it is written by a simple blogger with an interest in the subject at a comfortable distance from the conflict, not by Henry Kissinger – although some elements bear a resemblance to proposals recently put forward by Zbigniew Brzezinski (thanks, Peter Kemp at LP).  Still, I wanted to make the attempt, however foolish.

UPDATE: I’ve added some further thoughts at the end of the post.

II The platform for a lasting  peace

The broad outline of a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict is clear enough, and has been for some time. It may seem a strange thing to say, but it really takes no particular prescience or omniscience to identify what its principal features should be: it’s essentially a matter of common sense.

Each proposal for peace discussed below can be expected to inspire, on both sides of the divide, responses like ‘That’s impossible!’, ‘Totally unacceptable!’, ‘You’re ignoring….’, ‘But what about…’

Let’s deal with those later. Instead, let’s start by describing the end-state.

For there to be a lasting peace of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard, all or most of the following conditions need to be met.

Acceptance of Israel’s existence.

Nothing much needs to be said against this point. It is the foundation of all that follows. The Palestinians may not like it, but Israel isn’t going away.

The renunciation of terror.

The Palestinians must abandon the use of terror against Israel. This is the sine qua non of any settlement. Without it, no resolution will be possible. Israel cannot give up the West Bank to see it become another Gaza, or perhaps even worse, another south Lebanon. It cannot expose its population and industrial centres to terror attacks or rocket fire from the east.

For reasons that may or may not be sufficient, until the commencement of Operation ‘Cast Lead’, the Israeli government required the residents of its southern towns to soak up the punishment meted out by Hamas in Gaza. It’s not an easy thing to say, but the fact is that Sderot is not strategically important to Israel (though Ashkelon is). No doubt that brutal calculus played a part in Israel’s relative quiescence over the past three years. Similar attacks against Tel Aviv could never be tolerated in the same way.

So terror must cease to be an instrument of Palestinian statehood. Any new Palestine must disarm its militia, and adhere to a basic principle of statehood: that the elected government holds a monopoly on the use of lethal force, exercised in accordance with accepted standards law through the instruments of its military and police services. All other exercise of lethal force will be a criminal act, and dealt with as such.

Security guarantees.

Without these, a Palestinian state, especially on the West Bank, would pose a constant, potent and existential threat to Israel. Recently I discovered, rather to my surprise, that it takes me more time to commute to work every day than it would to drive across the waist of Israel from the West Bank to the Mediterranean.

There must be a cast-iron assurance that the West Bank will not host a build-up of Arab armies capable of invasion. Israel is militarily very strong, but the IDF’s real strength lies in its reserves. These, unless the IDF’s performance has improved in recent years, it takes three days to mobilize. Therefore, an invading force would have three days to reach Tel Aviv before Israel’s defences could be fully deployed.

Such a force might well fail, given Israel’s technological superiority, but no responsible Israeli leader could afford to take the chance that it might not.

In support of security guarantees, some adjustment to the borders will have to occur. It may be over-emotive to describe the 1967 status quo ante as the ‘Auschwitz borders’, but Israel must have a territorial boundary capable of being defended. There will have to be compromises and perhaps some population transfers to affect this.

Complete withdrawal.

Israel must withdraw from the territories occupied since 1967; or rather, it must complete its withdrawal, since Gaza is no longer occupied. The settler movement and Israeli irredentists must accept that, whatever religious and historical claims they might have to Judea and Samaria, they will have to abandon them.

Jews who desire for religious or other reasons to live on what is now known as the West Bank should be allowed to do so, but as immigrants, not settlers, and be subject to Palestinian, not Israeli authority.

The creation of a new state.

The new State of Palestine would comprise the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, linked by a secure land corridor. Contiguity is neither feasible nor practicable. There are precedents: one of the world’s newest states, East Timor, consists principally of half of one island in the Indonesian archipelago, and the Oecussi enclave, which is wholly situated within neighbouring Indonesian West Timor. So, despite the logistic difficulties, a state made up of non-contiguous territories can be feasibly constituted.

It would be reasonable, until a state of non-belligerence is confirmed, that Israel would retain control of the air space, and access by sea to Gaza.  In similar vein, it should  maintain aerial surveillance of the West Bank and its border with Jordan, until the peace was secure.

The Golan Heights and the Shebaa Farms should be the subject of separate negotiations between the sovereign powers concerned.  These issues should be excised from any peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

No general right of return.

No reasonable person could expect Israel to absorb five million Palestinians. This would result in the demographic balance being shifted from a Jewish to an Arab majority and therefore, the dissolution of the Jewish state – which is of course the reason it is insisted upon by the current Palestinian leadership.  Apart from that, the demands for jobs and housing would be quite impossible to meet.

Some limited right of return based on family reunion should be feasible, subject to security considerations.  The UNWRA formula by which a Palestinian is regarded as a refugee if he or she had resided in Palestine for two years or more prior to 1948 should be revoked, and refugees encouraged to resettle, with the relevant government’s approval and support, into the Arab lands of their choice.  Or they could chose to return to the new Palestine.

Compensation should be provided to Palestinians who can demonstrate to a properly constituted tribunal that their land or property was appropriated by Israel in consequence of their forcible expulsion from Israeli territory.  A lower order of compensation might be available to Palestinians who fled for reasons other than compulsion.

The settlements.

Establishing settlements in the occupied territories was Israel’s historic mistake. Many Israelis and their supporters have contended that the settlements were not illegal, because they were established on territory that was not the sovereign territory of any state.

Be that as it may, it was, at the least, morally wrong to construct settlements in territories seized in war, whatever spiritual claims might be advanced for them. Of course, it has to be recognized that Israel offered the territories back, after the Six-Day War, in return for peace, but was refused. That offer remained effectively open at least until 1977, when the Likud gained its first electoral victory.

The settlements must be regarded as negotiable, as they have been in the past. Begin returned the Sinai to Egypt and forcibly evicted its settlers in return for a peace deal with Egypt; Sharon evicted the settlers from Gaza in return for nothing at all (if you exclude the terror campaign that gave rise to ‘Cast Lead’).   The West Bank is more difficult, since over 400,000 Israeli settlers currently reside there.  Wholesale, immediate return would not be possible – the employment and housing requirements of the settlers evicted from Gaza have still not been met.

There seem to be two options: to adjust the borders to include the settlements within Israel, or to allow them to remain in the new State of Palestine, subject to guarantees that their lives and property will be protected by the authorities of the new Palestinian state.

The latter seems preferable. The settlers would therefore have a choice: remain where you are as Jewish citizens of Palestine, or return to Israel, perhaps over a period of years. But if Israel can accommodate an Arab minority of two or so million, surely Palestine can accommodate a Jewish minority of a few hundred thousand.


This will be the hardest part of the deal for Israelis to accept – and for that matter, Israel’s supporters in world Jewry.

[In fact, I am not actually convinced that this proposal is either morally right or psychologically possible, but let’s lay it out anyway.]

Israel must relinquish control of East Jerusalem and return it to Palestinian authority. Personally, I would like to see Jerusalem remain united under Israeli sovereignty. I recognize the moral, psychological and spiritual claim that the Jews have to Jerusalem, as expressed in the aching, deathless lament: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…’

And yet East Jerusalem was seized by force in 1967, and should be returned. It could be argued that West Jerusalem was also seized, during the 1948 War of Independence, since the 1947 partition plan did not cede any part of Jerusalem to the Jews, but designated it as an international zone. (The Jewish Agency’s partition plan of 1946, too, accorded Jerusalem that status). But the War of Independence was the furnace out which Israel was born, wherein it defeated five Arab armies sworn to its annihilation. Whatever the legalities, for moral reasons alone Israel is entitled to keep all that it won in that war. But same cannot be said of the territory seized in 1967.

Sovereignty over Jerusalem should be divided to satisfy the just demands of both sides; yet it should be governed as a unity. It should not be too difficult to set up a system of government for Jerusalem jointly between Palestine and Israel, such that although it was divided in sovereignty, it existed as a single entity. Over time, sovereignty itself would become largely symbolic. Perhaps, in the decades that followed such a settlement, it might be possible for Israel to negotiate the return of East Jerusalem.

The Old City, with its places holy to all three faiths and its priceless archaeological sites, should be governed as a separate enclave, perhaps along the lines of Vatican City, but subject ultimately to Palestinian authority. Scholars, archaeologists and theologians should be strongly represented in any system of governance. Access to the sacred sites should be open and guaranteed to devotees of each faith. Archaeological and historical sites should be protected and preserved.

Israel to assist Palestine achieve statehood.

From whatever angle you view it, the establishment of the State of Israel represents an injustice to the Palestinian Arabs. But equally, from whichever angle you view it, a refusal to allow the Jews to establish a safe haven state would have been an injustice to the Jews. That is the dilemma at the heart of the conflict.

Israel has been an outstandingly successful exercise in nation-building. Despite wars, terrorism and the unremitting hostility of its neighbours, Israelis have built a nation which is rivaled in the modern age perhaps only by Singapore in its economic and technological accomplishments, and by none in its implementation of democratic principles, equity and the rule of law.

The claim that Israel is an ‘apartheid’ state is a malignant untruth.  Israeli Arabs are equal under the law, have their own political parties, and are well-represented in the Knesset.  In early 2007, an Israeli Arab, Majalli Wahaba, a Druse, briefly occupied the position of Head of State in Israel, in the temporary absence of the acting President.

It is true there is tension between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs at the level of the street.  This could hardly be otherwise, given the history of the conflict between the peoples, and the fact that all too often the Arab communities side with Israel’s enemies, and are exempt from national service and from payment of municipal taxes. In contrast, the Israeli Jews are required to risk and sacrifice all.   Neither Jews nor Arabs in Israel are angels.

Israel has the flaw of every state so far constructed by human beings: it can’t transcend that condition.  But if you look at the multitude of states which have emerged on the international stage since the end of WWII, Israel stands as the one to beat – and that against almost impossible odds.

Why is this important? Because of what it can offer to Palestine. Having remedied one injustice by instituting a state for the Jews, Israel must, in the kind of settlement we are discussing here, be ready to help redress the other, and assist the Palestinians to travel the road that it has itself so successfully followed.

At present, neither Gaza nor the West Bank resembles even a proto-state. Each is riven by factions – terroristic, criminal and clannish. Economic activity exists, it is true, and in parts of the West Bank, even flourishes. But neither territory can be said to possess an economy in any real sense. Essential infrastructures are ramshackle, if they exist at all, and the necessary institutions of a viable state – the rule of law, an impartial education system and so on – have been hopelessly compromised by violence, terror and corruption. Gaza and the West Bank are now almost wholly dependent on donor aid, a condition manifestly incompatible with self-reliant statehood. Proto-Palestine is therefore at ground zero.

It was an accident of history, no doubt, but nonetheless to Israel’s inestimable advantage that Israel was first a people, then a territory, then a nation, and then a state. I have little sympathy for those in Israel (and elsewhere) who claim there are no ‘Palestinians’ because there never was a ‘Palestine‘. That might have been true in 1920, in 1948 or 1967, but is true now. There is, now, a Palestinian people, and when a settlement comes about, there will be a Palestinian state on a geographically de-limited territory.

What’s missing is the bit in between – the Palestinian nation. This is where Israel can do the most to help – to assist with the building of national institutions, infrastructure and culture, as it built its own during the days of the Mandate, long before it became a state.  Quite apart from issues of policy, Israel is well-placed to provide guidance to Palestine on agriculture and environmental programs (its famed ‘grey water’ distribution system, for example).

How difficult that will be to achieve as it were retrogressively, when the people already have a territory and a state but not a nation, would be the main challenge for the future decades. And of course, Palestine might reject Israel’s help anyway, and turn to others. That would be its right.


The difficulties appear insuperable, the problem insoluble.  What I have suggested above looks impossibly Utopian, and palpably incapable of achievement.   Perhaps all these statements are true.  We must hope not.

Without hope, there will be nothing but an unending river of blood – a river that seeps down into the sand and stone, to join all the other rivers and all the layers of devastation already stamped into the surface of this ancient, wretched, blessed land by the feet of the armies which raged north, raged south over the millennia.  Who, even at this distance in time and space, can forget the fate of  the Children of Zion, keening and keeping watch from lonely outposts over their shattered fortresses and slaughtered armies on the plains of northern Israel, all mercilessly destroyed by the Assyrians, and carried off at last to exile in Babylon by the exultant hordes of Sargon II on their way back from Egypt?

But this is now.

I can’t claim that this is an original prescription, but it seems extraordinarily apt.  For both sides,  the formula for peace is almost the same:

For Israel: We must forgive you for the present, and you must forgive us for the past.

For Palestine: You must forgive us for the present, and we must forgive you for the past.

I’m not sure if I’ve got the we‘s and you‘s in the right places, but you get the general idea.

An unpropitious environment.

What has gone before is, of course, the easy bit. It reminds me of the old Monty Python joke about how to play the flute: ‘Well, Brian, you blow into this hole here and you move your fingers up and down over these holes here, and that’s how you play the flute! Back to you, Brian’. And that of course, is how you play the flute, but equally of course, it’s not how you play the flute. It’s easy to describe the end-state – the problem is how long it takes and how difficult it is to get there.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is not the only one that has appeared intractable in modern times. Who, in the early 1980’s, would have believed that within a few scant years the Soviet empire would have collapsed so quickly and so completely? That the nationalisms and ethnic differences suppressed through eighty years of Soviet (and, later, Yugoslav) domination could have spawned, in less than two decades, a whole series of new states, which despite – or even because of – a number high-intensity wars, witnessed the region righting itself after years of distortion and imbalance?

Or take the case of South Africa. I doubt anyone believed, when Nelson Mandela was finally released from jail, that he would be able to negotiate with de Kierk the end of generations of apartheid policies that had rightly offended the sensibilities of the world. Yet that, too, happened, and although South Africa is a long way from being a model state, there are prospects that some time in the not-too-distant future it may be.

That these things happened, against logic and history, is baffling. It was almost as if the planets were finally in alignment: as if the tide of affairs (to paraphrase Shakespeare) was such that the time called forth the right people, the right leaders, the leaders who know that it just could not go on the way it had up till that moment. So the impossibilities of the present became the ghosts of the past, and it was possible, with a huge effort and struggle, to overcome the barriers and move forward.

The Middle East awaits its moment, but no-one can tell when or how it will come about. It is one of the great tragedies of the Israel-Palestine conflict that, while the Israeli side has put forward peace-makers – Ben-Gurion, Rabin, the unlikely Begin and Sharon – the Palestinian side never has. Arafat shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Shimon Peres for the Oslo Accords, it is true. Although it was politically necessary, it was a moral and historical travesty, and in a just world, that honour would be stripped from him posthumously.


Next: The roots of Arab rejectionism


Salman Rushdie on the Mumbai Bombay terror attacks

December 28, 2008

Salman Rushdie, with a panel of distinguished others, discussed the November terrorist attacks on the city of Bombay in New York a few days ago.

Among other things, he had this to say about the re-naming of Bombay, the city in which he was born:

And by the way, I think we have all agreed before hand that we are going to call the city by its proper name, which is Bombay. It is Bombay that was attacked and not Mumbai. And, by the way, I cannot say, and this is the only time I will say it, the words “Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus”. This railway station is and always will be VT. And so, because these are the names of love, the others are the artificial names imposed by the politicians. But these are the names of the city that we love.

Here it is:


Rushdie is always worth listening to, and you can catch the video of the discussion here at Asia Society (it runs for more than an hour and a half), or read edited extracts from his remarks here at Outlook India.

It’s interesting that he has a swipe at Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy:

[Arundhati Roy in her article had actually written: “We’re told one of these hotels is an icon of the city of Mumbai. That’s absolutely true. It’s an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day.”–Ed ]

I thought that particular remark in her piece was disgusting. The idea that the deaths of the rich don’t matter because they are rich is disgusting.

The idea that the 12 members of the Taj staff, who heroically gave their lives to save many of the guests, are to be discounted because they were presumably the lackeys of the rich — this is nauseating. This is amoral. And she should be ashamed of herself.

Roy was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004.

Talking of the Bombay attacks, some chilling stuff here.

Disturbing photographs made available to this newspapers by police sources indicate that several of the guests at the Taj Mahal Hotel during the siege November 26 were sexually humiliated by the terrorists and then shot dead.

Police sources confirm that even as the terrorists were engaged in a fierce combat with NSG commandos, they were humiliating their hostages before ending their terrifying ordeal.

Foreign guests were their particular target. Eight of the 31 killed at the Taj were foreign nationals.

Photographs taken by a police forensic team after the hotel was sanitised yield a gruesome picture of some of the guests in the nude.

These bodies were found away from the hotel’s swimming pool which makes it clear that they were not those guests who were taken hostage from the poolside.

“Even the Rabbi and his wife at Nariman House were sexually assaulted and their genitalia mutilated,” said a senior officer of the investigating team, not wishing to be quoted.

We’ve seen some of these stories before, and I’m not convinced they’re not just rumours and gossip. I hope they are.