Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Let me ask you about Israel-Palestine

Recently, I have had a couple of internship interviews where I was asked the same question regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely what I thought was the biggest issue on the Israeli side. Reading this, you may think I said something half-hearted about settlements or "disproportionate" responses, unable to think of anything I honestly think Israel does wrong. Or maybe you think the settlements are such a big issue that it is just obvious I mentioned those because they are, of course, the biggest problem on the Israeli side. I mean the conflict is about land right?

Wrong. I did mention settlements but only to dismiss it as my answer. I did so because I couldn't tell you for a minute what areas of land are considered part of Israel or part of a future Palestinian state. I couldn't explain the terms of the Oslo Accords and I don't have a working knowledge of the different areas that Israel is allowed to build on or isn't allowed to build on. Frankly, I am inclined to believe that virtually no one who lectures me on Israeli policy knows a damn thing about settlements other than they're, of course, very very bad. Believe me, it isn't as simple as the 'West Bank' being one big collection of settlements.  Simply put, that's about as much as I would claim to actually know. 

Instead I spoke about Israel's PR problem. I said that it is very easy to argue that media outlets are anti-Semitic or bias against Israel (which I think they are) and it may be the case that Israel operates from the position where she is guilty until proven innocent by which point it is too late. In an ideal world Israel would be held to the same standard as every other country; pictures of Syrian children would be considered newsworthy without an excuse to blame the Israelis; and I would look like George Clooney but we do not live in an ideal world. Of course Israel has to act in her interests, but I do wish our politicians would, for once, stop and think about their decisions and what they say. An excellent article on the failings in Israeli diplomacy can be found here. I mentioned the article in my response, though I could not remember the foreign secretary that it mentioned but I spoke of my own example that I think sums it up. An example that has, in the last 24 hours, taken heartbreaking turn. 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this blog on the Hamas-Fatah unity deal. The Israeli response to this deal was to declare the impossibility of negotiation with any Hamas backed government. As it happens, I agreed entirely but that is not the point. In the world that we live, when Netanyahu states that he cannot negotiate with a government backed by an entity that is committed to Israel's destruction he is accused of being anti-peace and looking for any excuse to back out of talks. And you know what? That is what it looks like. Sure it should not be like that. Sure Fatah should be condemned for being anti-peace by, um, you know, agreeing a unity deal with a terrorist organisation. But Netanyahu must have been aware that would be the consequence. Rather than unequivocally announce that peace was impossible with any Hamas backed government, his message should have been one of hope. Instead of suggesting this meant the end of peace talks, his message could have been that he hoped Hamas would back the peace talks and end their violence. Had the world seen this message, it may have been pleasantly surprised. This message would lend itself much better to the 'Israel wants peace narrative'. I do not, for a minute, disagree that it says a lot about the sorry state of the world that Israel, in stating it can and will not negotiate with an entity committed to her destruction, is the side labelled as anti-peace, rather than Fatah in agreeing a unity deal with them. But this is the reality Israel faces.

Had Netanyahu given this message to the world, he would have only had to wait a couple of days to come out and say, not "I told you so," but "I was mistaken - this is the same Hamas, as if proof were really needed." The latter comment, in my eyes, has a lot more force. Hamas was always going to prove my optimism could not have been more misplaced but that is exactly the point. Netanyahu did not need to come out immediately and state Hamas could not be negotiated with. Rather, he could have voiced his hope that there was still a possibility of peace, even with Hamas, and just been patient. Waited for Hamas to prove him wrong. Which they did. By kidnapping and murdering three innocent teenagers. Just a couple of days later. The tragedy is, this tragedy was bound to happen. Of course Hamas cannot be negotiated with. Of course Hamas would commit acts of terror that would ultimately prove Netanyahu right. It is also a great shame that this was not realised by a political mind I happen to have a lot of respect for.