There is a tiny stretch of land that lies between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea that has seen more war and more people fighting for its control than any other part of the Earth’s surface.
The Philistines, Moabites, Canaanites and other pre-historic tribes gave way to the Israelites, who were conquered by the Assyrians, who were defeated by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Over the following millenia, the Persians, Seleucids, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads, Abbysids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottamans and the British claimed sovereignty over part or all of the area.
Then, in 1947, the UN voted to [establish, recognise, acknowledge, impose, create or re-create]* (*delete as required depending on your perspective) a homeland in the area for the Jewish people – a land that Jews have referred to for thousands of years as Eretz Yisroel – the Land of Israel, and for the first time in over 2000 years, Jews had a land where they could live under their own rule, free from the whim of sometimes benevolent, often genocidal hosts.
As is obvious to anyone who has not been living under a rock, that was not the end of the story, nor of the conflict that has so scarred this region, and for the ensuing 68 years, the Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians and (of course) Palestinians have attempted to wrest control of some or all of the land from Israeli (or more specifically Jewish) hands.
Like most civilised people, I have hoped and prayed throughout my life for an end to the conflict and the suffering and death it has inflicted on all the people of the region, but save for a few precious moments (Sadat and Begin, Oslo, Rabin, the establishment of the PA) peace has seemed impossible.
To my mind, and contrary to the perception that is prevalent in the Western intelligentsia and liberal mainstream media, Israel is currently in a stronger position than it has ever been. Due to the horrific turmoil of the civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya et al, no Arab country is in any state (or state of mind) to challenge Israeli military might; Hamas (though they try to present an image of strength) is in reality entirely at Israel’s mercy and is isolated (following the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt); and the Palestinian Authority has tied itself up in such gordian knots trying to have its cake and eat it that it doesn’t know whether it is a government-in-waiting, a partner for peace, a cabal of collaborators or a leader of “resistance against the occupation”.
As peace is most often made from a position of strength, I was quietly confident that, should Israel choose to do so, she could impose a solution which the weak Palestinian and Arab leadership would simply have to accept – create facts on the ground that it would be simply impossible for anyone to extinguish. It was this that I suppose Ariel Sharon had in mind when he ordered the unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli civilians and military from Gaza in 2005.
The sharp-eyed among you may have spotted that I said I was quietly confident. In recent weeks and months, however, I have come to conclude that peace – even an imposed and reluctant one – is simply not possible for the forseeable future, for one fundamental reason.
Not the status of Jerusalem, not the “settlements”, not the “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees (about which I will write elsewhere) which are the usual issues said by the Western media to be “obstacles to peace”, as all these lie firmly in Israel’s control.
The one, basic, fundamental obstacle preventing peace right now is simply this.
The Palestinians do not want peace.
What is my evidence for this statement? First, I will refer to the Palestinian leadership (i.e. Mahmood Abbas and his PA government and Khaled Meshaal and his Hamas comrades. Hamas make no secret of the fact they do not want peace with Israel. Their rhetoric, their Charter, flag and their stated aims involve the removal of any Jewish rule over any part of the historic region known as Palestine. The PA, for all their moderation when talking in English to Western journalists, incite violence and hatred at every turn when speaking in Arabic to their own people (see the excellent Palestinian Media Watch and Middle East Media Research Institute, which have catalogued some of the hundreds of examples including this slander from the official Fatah Twitter feed, alleging that the Palestinians killed in the recent spate of stabbing attacks are actually innocent victims of murderous Israelis, who plant knives on them after shooting them).
But what about the Palestinian “street” – ordinary Palestinians who have not had any democratic ability to express their opinion since the far from free or fair elections of the PA in 2005 (Abbas is currently in the 11th year of his 4-year term) and Hamas in 2006.
My hope was that ordinary Palestinians, with access to opinion and information from throughout the world, and weary from the failures of violent resistance that has been the primary tactic of Palestinian leadership since the PLO’s foundation in 1967, may (even if only out of desire for some respite) hold at least a tentatively welcoming view of a peaceful end to the conflict that has, undoubtedly caused them a great deal of personal, economic and physical distress.
Sadly, I have now read this excellent and comprehensive review of Palestinian public opinion, compiled by Daniel Polisar. It represents the most wide-ranging and well-researched overview of Palestinian opinion on 3 key questions – on Israel itself, on Israelis/Jews and on violent attacks against Israelis. The methodology used is thorough, so I believe as reliable as it could be. It is rather long however, so I have taken the liberty of summarising it in bullet points below, but I recommend a thorough reading of it.
Palestinians (or at least a significant majority) believe that:
- Israel is the cause of all the problems faced by Palestinians, even those with which Israel has little or no involvement (e.g. the 2007 Hamas coup in Gaza);
- Israel aims to annex all the land west of the Jordan river and to expel all the Arabs living there, including Arab citizens of Israel;
- Israel’s intention is to destroy the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques and build a synagogue in their place;
- Israelis are violent and untrustworthy;
- Judaism is the most violent religion;
- Jews do not have a long history of ties to Jerusalem, whereas Palestinians do;
- Jews do not have a right to a state in any part of the land;
- The Dolphinarium suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the 7/7 attacks in London, the Madrid train bombings and 9/11 were not acts of terrorism;
- The use of chemical or biological weapons by Palestinians against Israelis would not be terrorist acts, but the use of such weapons by Israel against Palestinians would be terrorism;
- Violence against civilian targets in Israel and the West is justified, praiseworthy and will make Israel more likely to compromise;
- Hamas was the “victor” in each of the Gaza wars;
- It is morally “right” to name streets after Palestinians who were “martyred” in the act of killing Israeli civilians;
- Osama bin Laden (Al Qa’eda), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran) and Hasan Nasrallah (Hezbollah) are all to be admired;
- It is admirable and “right” to stab Israeli civilians or to drive a car into them.
This is all most depressing, and has shaken my faith that peace is likely to happen – either soon or at all. The only ray of light I now see is simply that history teaches us that what seems impossible one day can and does become reality the next.
In the frozen depths of the Cold War in the early 1980s, anyone predicting the (largely peaceful) collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of that decade would have been branded a fool.
Even as Perestroika was in full swing and the Iron Curtain was rusting away, nobody would have predicted that within a few short years, South African Apartheid would not only have been bloodlessly dismantled, but that the country would have a black President.
So – though peace in that blood-soaked slip of land at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean now seems as remote as at any time in the last 3 millenia, who knows what miracles may come to pass? We can only continue to pray “Osei shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom alenu v’al kol yisroel” – “May He who makes peace, bring peace to us and to all Israel.”
And let us say … Amen.