Killing children - and peace

The other day I received another invitation to a university debate. The motion was "This House Believes That Israel Asks Too Much And Gives Too Little In The Peace Process" and it was assumed that I would speak in opposition, alongside - maybe - someone from the Israeli Embassy and someone from the Zionist Federation. On the other side, feelers were out to Tony Benn, George Galloway, Tariq Ali and Gerald Kaufman. So you get it: pro-Israel on one side, anti on the other.

Actually, I agree with the motion and I couldn't work out why the organisers thought I would oppose it, other than going by my name and by my not believing that Zionism equals Racism. If by "Israel" they meant Binyamin Netanyahu's government, I would have supported a stronger motion, reading something like, "the current Israeli administration probably doesn't believe in the peace process at all".

But, then, imagine lining up beside someone like Galloway - his tongue still fresh from its excursions into the nether regions of various Middle Eastern dictators - and trying to distinguish your milquetoast criticisms from his bombast.

This would be true in the best of times, but in terms of any peace process, these feel like the worst of times. And few events can have exemplified their awfulness more completely than the murder of the Fogel family, and their hopelessness much more than the reaction to it.

'Settlements for Murders' has a kind of mad brilliance

In Britain, outside Jewish communities, there wasn't that much reaction. Settlers, West Bank, murder, extremists - what do you expect? Too much else going on to throw the journalistic kitchen sink at a story like that, even if it did involve kids having their throats cut in their own house.

In the US it was different, bringing the full intervention of such diplomatic intellects as Glenn Beck. And in Israel, as the shock took hold, the government proclaimed an almost unique policy of automatic responses to such killings. Within a day, the ministerial committee on settlement affairs greenlit the construction of 500 new housing units on the West Bank, advertising this as a response to the Itamar murders.

Next day, the various hardnuts, chauvinists, Eretzers and Bourbonsteins who make up the Israeli cabinet began an auction to see who could propose the most new West Bank buildings per settler victim. The Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, thought 100 was not enough, and that the ratio should be 1,000 units per corpse. The Shas Housing Minister demanded Hebrew concrete all over "Judea and Samaria".

There is a kind of mad brilliance about this attitude - what the blogger Yahel Barak has called Settlements for Murders (replacing Land for Peace). One of the main problems in reaching any eventual two-state agreement is the continued building of settlements on non-Israeli territory. Another is terrorism. Now, of course, the kind of person who decapitates babies is not really looking for a peaceful solution, and probably prefers war and annihilation. So what you do - if you're an Israeli bongo-brain - is that you link your own anti-agreement moves to the murderer's anti-peace violence, and create the perfect polarising ratchet. Murders, settlements up, peace further away, hopelessness, murders up, settlements up, peace impossible.

An inevitable effect is to knock out any middle ground, to squeeze to nothing any room for progress, to suffocate any chance of compromise.

And then what happens? What happens is that the rest of us are invited, not just to tolerate this madness, but actually to take sides in it - to stand for Palestine with the Galloways over here, or for the Jewish state with the Likudniks and Shasites over there. Those who actually don't believe in, or want, any realistic or conceivable solution (who fantasise, don't they, about some eventual victory in which the "other" will somehow disappear) will demand that we take their part in it. With Us or with Them. Choose.

Another example. Mahmoud Abbas is bound to try publicly to reach some sort of accommodation with Hamas in Gaza, so that the Palestinian entity can eventually reunite, and new elections be held. For the peace process, in the longer term, it is important that this happens. In fact, you can't have peace without it. But if you were the kind of Israeli who believes that keeping Gaza separate means the possibility of a successful annexation of the West Bank, then you might insist on Abbas not entering any dialogue with Hamas. And this, Netanyahu has done.

So let's call things by their names. The people who murdered the Fogels are barbarians. And the Israeli government is made up of people who don't want peace, but dream of victory.

    Last updated: 11:17am, April 4 2011