The Observer (U.K) October 15, 2000
Israel must end the hatred now
A true Palestinian state is essential
Special report: Israel and the Middle East
Leader Sunday October 15, 2000
If Palestinians were black, Israel would now be a pariah state subject to economic sanctions led by the United States. Its development and settlement of the West Bank would be seen as a system of apartheid, in which the indigenous population was allowed to live in a tiny fraction of its own country, in self-administered 'bantustans', with 'whites' monopolising the supply of water and electricity. And just as the black population was allowed into South Africa's white areas in disgracefully under-resourced townships, so Israel's treatment of Israeli Arabs - flagrantly discriminating against them in housing and education spending - would be recognised as scandalous too. One fall-out from the current violence in the West Bank is that the world is beginning to recognise the extraordinary injustice with which Palestinians are treated by Israel. Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democratic civility whose peace-making efforts have now been destroyed by a Palestinian onslaught directed by Yasser Arafat. Yes, there is dreadful hatred. And yes, Arafat - cynical and corrupt - is no Nelson Mandela. But the responsibility for ending hatred must lie with the stronger partner. With this week's grim scorecard showing nearly 100 Palestinian fatalities and many more wounded against two Israeli soldiers dead, there is no doubting where the balance of power actually lies.
An enraged Israeli population, united by fear and despair, will regard such criticism as grossly unfair. They argue that they signed the Oslo accords seven years ago. Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a partial handover of East Jerusalem and placing the holy sites outside Jewish control at Camp David in July this year in order to to get a peace deal. Within Israel, there was a move to recognise Palestine as an independent state. It was thrown back in their face, and Arafat has been inciting Palestinians to riot, inevitably prompting the Israeli police and army to react.
But that is a self-serving account. The Oslo accords built in an overwhelming Israeli territorial advantage in the West Bank, and inevitably turned Arafat into a compromised leader. He is caught between an intransigent negotiating partner and a sullen, suspicious population over whom he has little direct control - a stooge created by Israeli policy and sustained by it. And all the while Israeli settlers extend their settlements in the West Bank.
There is and never can be any long-term legitimacy for the Israeli state in the Middle East as long as this process continues - and it is this that threatens Israel's long-term survival. It was not Mr Sharon's visit to the al-Aqsa compound on 28 September that triggered the current mayhem; it was Israeli soldiers killing seven Palestinians and wounding 220 others the following day, a calculated act of oppression for which the 'peace-making' Mr Barak must accept responsibility.
It is all very well calling for summits and truces, and if they succeed in creating short-term calm then they are welcome. But this is a moment of truth for Israel. It can threaten all-out war and even reoccupy southern Lebanon. However, it is a course that leads nowhere. If it wants genuine and lasting peace, Israel must work to construct a legitimate Palestinian state, draw back its illegal settlements from the West Bank to build confidence around an agreed timetable and, in the interim, exercise restraint in the way it polices. Playing the role of Old Testament hammer of the non-Jewish will offer no permanent solution to the crisis.
This is the course of action that the European Union must back, and quickly. The EU must declare independence from apparently craven American support for whatever Israel does, with successive US Presidents fearing the strength of the Jewish vote in swing states like New York and Florida. Maybe even President Clinton in the last month of his presidency could be outspoken about the situation; he has no more to lose. But with the oil price rising ominously and immense support for the Palestinians welling up round the Arab world, the West needs to be seen on the side of right.
This does not mean that we have to be starry-eyed about Arafat, or the medieval culture from which he springs. But two wrongs do not make a right, and Israel's indefensible policy of apartheid must be condemned for what it is. Until then, there can be only more distrust, hatred and violence.