Israel vs. Hamas and others

As long as the Arab/Muslim tendency decides that removing Israel from the map is top of its Interests and Needs, the negotiation can go on only through explosions, not talking

Israel is under unique pressures
Charles Crawford
On 20 November 2012 10:06

In other words, either Israel's opponents accept Israel's very right to exist as some sort of authentic homeland for the Jewish people, or they don't. In the latter case, what is there to talk about? Here is an article from earlier this year by my former FCO colleague Tom Phillips who has served as Ambassador in both Israel and Saudi Arabia and finds it all very gloomy.

This logic explains why the rhetoric of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is so brazenly effective in its own vile terms. Ahmadinejad acts a global anti-Semitic rabble-rouser in two ways. He periodically talks about Israel as such disappearing from the world map. But he also jeers and sneers at the Holocaust itself, thereby nibbling away at the very legitimacy of Jewish self-determination (“even if they are there, they shouldn’t be!”).

And he throws in for good measure a sly, related idea that no doubt goes down well in the shisha cafes across the Middle East: Europe, not the Muslims, brutalised and tried to wipe out the Jewish nation, and then dumped the Jewish problem unfairly in the Arab/Muslim world. The Jews themselves say they don't need too much space, so why doesn't Europe simply take them all back again?

As more and more people with a fervent anti-Israel instinct come from the Middle East to make their homes in Europe, you can feel arguments like this subtly and creepily gaining ground in public life here too; anti-Semitism crossed with ersatz pragmatism. In the long run – and maybe not so long run – that's where the votes are.

Broadly speaking, there are only three possibilities in any confrontation of this sort. Either the extremes expand to squeeze out the middle. Or the middle expands to marginalise the extremes. Or an unstable, uneasy equilibrium between moderates and extremists establishes itself for a while, and then adjusts with a new convulsion.

The latter is what we are now seeing in the Israel/Palestinian problem. Hamas has built up its weapon stocks to seriously threatening levels and started to use them, so Israel has decided to demolish them.

Israel is hitting back with ruthless precision at Hamas targets in Gaza. This is what the negotiation between Israel and Hamas (and what Hamas represents) looks like. Israel is telling Hamas (and Cairo under its new management, and Qatar and Tehran, and Washington and Brussels and Moscow) that if Ahmadinejad is right and the race is now on towards mutually assured destruction, Israel is ready to compete but on its terms and its timing.

In short, it is not surprising that Israel makes clear that its existence is not up for negotiation as diplomats usually define that term. Israel knows all too well that even if "moderates" or "realists" in Hamas ranks or elsewhere in the Middle East are ready to think about striking some sort of historic deal with Israel, those people are unlikely to come to the fore as they fear being wiped out by well-funded fundamentalists who see no reason to compromise. And Israel is also necessarily on guard against so-called political solutions that in fact are intended to be salami-slicing of Israel’s security.

Any hope? Not really. There is enough wealth, energy, and land across the Middle East for all sides to find ways of reconciling their Interests and Needs. But as long as a radical and influential Arab/Muslim tendency decides that removing Israel from the map is top of its Interests and Needs, the negotiation can go on only through explosions, not talking.

Charles Crawford is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. A former British Ambassador in Sarajevo, Belgrade and Warsaw, he is now a private consultant and writer. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter: @charlescrawford

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