Peace talks that are pointless

The outcome of Israel’s election is irrelevant to its enemies’ implacable hostility

By Geoffrey Alderman, March 12, 2009

Readers have been asking me why I have not yet devoted a column to the prospects for peace in the Middle East following the recent Israeli elections. The fact is that the elections themselves are much less important than the particular complexion of the resulting coalition government and this complexion may not be fully apparent for several weeks yet.

Following the elections, assorted pundits bemoaned Israel’s electoral system because it had failed, yet again, to deliver an “instant” result and seemed, yet again, to give inordinate power to minority parties. But minorities also have their rights, one of which is — in a true democracy — not to be excluded from political power. In the UK, it is possible for a party to be awarded the right to govern even though it attracts only minority support at a parliamentary election — as happened not only in 2005 but in every parliamentary election since 1950. In Israel, this cannot happen.

In the UK, once the votes are counted, a half and more of the electors are effectively disenfranchised because the candidate with the largest number of votes is declared elected, irrespective of the votes cast for other candidates. This results in totally unrepresentative government. In Israel, by contrast, whatever government emerges, we can be sure that it will represent a much broader range of political opinions.

But let us for the moment suspend any judgment on the likely political contours of a future Israeli government, and turn to matters requiring straightforward observation rather than mere conjecture. For if it has achieved nothing else, Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza has cleared the air in respect of a number of matters critical to the peace process.

The first is that it has demonstrated not merely the total inability of the Hamas government of Gaza to protect its citizens, but the complete lack of concern evinced by that government as to whether its citizens were or were not protected. Indeed, what mattered to the Hamas government was, rather, that the maximum amount of political and propaganda capital might be extracted from the deaths of what we would term civilians, but what it actually regards as front-line jihadi warriors — the young, the old, the infirm. All of these, through their “martyrdom”, can play their part in the war against the Jews.

The second is that it must now be crystal clear to everyone that Hamas, as a movement, is not interested in peace. Since the so-called ceasefire of January 18, more than 100 rockets and mortars have been launched from Gaza against Israel, not to mention sundry attacks against IDF border patrols. Be that as it may, following the “ceasefire”, loud indeed were the voices calling upon Israel to negotiate with Hamas. I was especially struck by frequent references in the media to the dictum of the late Israeli war hero, Moshe Dayan: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” This is a fine turn of phrase, and there’s a lot of sense in it. Provided, that is, that your enemies are willing to talk to you.

Following the Gaza conflict, feverish attempts were launched to bring about a reconciliation of Hamas with Fatah, the party led by PA President, Mahmoud Abbas. But it has now become apparent that such a reconciliation is some way off, not only because Hamas took the opportunity presented by the conflict to maim and murder Fatah members, but because Hamas has not the slightest intention of renouncing violence and talking to Israel about peace.

Two weeks ago, reacting to a call from Mr Abbas to pursue the goal of a two-state solution, a Hamas spokesman (Ayman Taha) declared that “Hamas will never accept a unity government that recognises Israel.” And, in a remarkable interview (aired lately on Fox TV), the son — now converted to Christianity — of one of the founders of Hamas was careful to explain the centrality of war against the Jewish state to the entire ideology upon which Hamas was established — the anti-Jewish ideology faithfully reflected in its founding charter.

Politics in Israel is often an unsavoury and sordid business, full of backroom deals and partisan brinkmanship. But from the point of view of peacemaking in the present climate, it seems to me to matter very little what government emerges from the recent Knesset elections. The plain fact is, you cannot negotiate with someone who desires only your destruction.

Last updated: 12:17pm, March 12 2009