It’s a hard subject to turn to – what the ABC calls the Middle East peace process. The initiativehad to be applauded of course, on the solid ground that almost anything was better than the seriously nutty proximity talks. But it is always hard to talk about somewhere where the head and heart are not in the same place. Of course there is hope. There has to be hope. But it is sure hard to have much. I haven’t checked but I doubt the bookmakers are taking much money at any odds.
It was always a long shot but it is dispiriting seeing the same old obstacles and smoke screens as the last time and the time before and the time before right back to the very start.. Ultimately the peace talks, if they are about anything at all, are about one big real estate deal. Everyone knows this. It is nonsensical to focus on building freezes when the parties should be talking about who should be the relevant building authority in a particular region at all. If they are not going to talk about that then what is the point of talking about extending freezes? What is the point of talking about anything? Many Israelis see that of course and are rightly suspicious. I suspect the Palestinians do too.
Beyond that the peace process is about passports, residency permits and travel passes for both Israelis and Palestinians. And that's it. Of course there is no formula that will satisfy everybody. But there is a formula.
I’ve said this before. The Palestinian/Israeli dispute is intractable for only one reason. It’s not up to the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve it. It is not within their power. It never has been.
Doubt this? Try this mental exercise. Consider a proposal to leave the whole mess entirely up to the people who live there. A blockade, perhaps, around the entire region from the Gaza/Egypt border along the Jordanian border with the occupied territories and back to the Mediterranean along the UN recognised borders between Israel and Lebanon and Syria. It covers Israel’s Mediterranean seaports and Eilat and includes restrictions on air traffic into the quarantined zone. Logistically this should not be at all difficult to organise. These are small countries and, let’s face it, most of the blockade apparatus is already in place anyway.
The blockade is for a set period, perhaps 30 days. It follows a lead up period of say six months during which all the parties in the zone are free to make all preliminary arrangements they like such as hold plebiscites among their populations and build up civilian stocks of necessities. However all military-use freight is declared contraband immediately. The blockade is enforced by any power in the rest of the world that chooses to do so, presumably by international agreement – but just a few powers will do.
What is wrong with this plan?
Let me anticipate the objections. It can’t work. The parties can’t be trusted. Without outside intervention they’ll slaughter one another. It’ll be one massacre after another.
Not valid. Of course there will be no slaughter. Only antisemites would seriously think there could be. The Palestinians will hate it and violently protest they have been abandoned? Probably. But I can’t imagine the Israelis being too pleased either. All parties in the zone can show up at talks at the places that are disputed. Or not show up. Or if they prefer they can fight. It’s up to them. The important thing is that everybody else can have their say but must bud out. It’s up to the people who live there and they can make their decisions informed by whatever or whoever they care to hear.
So what’s wrong with the plan? There will be peace alright and it is reasonable to expect it would come pretty quickly. But it will be a peace guaranteed by Israel’s overwhelming military might and that’s the rub. Not that sort of peace. The world would rather see this grubby, low level and dangerous war bubble on indefinitely than that.
Ultimately our mental exercise boils down to trust. Please note I have deliberately not brought Iran and its colonies in Gaza andLebanon into the equation yet or for that matter Syria. But that aside, the question for you is can the Israelis be trusted to behave like civilised human beings? Or if you prefer, can the Jews? Not perfect mind you. But at least on a par with how the Americans and allies behaved in Germany and Japan after their war.
So it all gets down to this. Can the Israelis, or if prefer the Jews, despite all their democratic institutions, including their judiciary, free media, scholarship, religion, culture and all the rest, be trusted to arrive at a fair peace settlement with any Palestinians who are prepared to talk to them. It seems to me you can either answer yes or no. Either that or you must admit you prefer war to peace and you should at least have the decency to be forthright about it.
You may conclude the Israelis can’t be trusted. Not even once. Bear in mind that outsiders have called the shots since before there was an Israel. Not to be trusted not even for just 30 days. That’s fine. That’s your prerogative. Spare me your reasoning though. I’m not interested. You may however have pause before you next blame Israel for the conflict. You can also expect not to be thanked for the insult and you might reflect on why Israelbashers always feel compelled to so incessantly protest they are not antisemites.
So what is the point of this exercise? It is only this. This is not a war between Israel and the Palestinians, and at a time whenIran’s head of state is jeering over the Lebanon border in a determined effort to destroy any remaining hope of the talks succeeding, it would be useful to stop pretending it was. Please acknowledge the bleeding obvious. The causes of this war lie outside our mythical quarantine zone. Until the world focuses on this then the war will continue for as long as the world chooses it to be.