The state of Israel is not evil, although it does evil things. But it does seem to be paranoid.
This is perhaps understandable, given the experience of the Holocaust, the belligerence of neighbouring states, and the hostility of many Palestinians. Israel fought off belligerent neighbours in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Israelis have been subjected to suicide bomb attacks and rocket attacks in more recent years. And only a week or two ago an Israeli soldier was stabbed to death by a young Palestinian whilst he was asleep on a bus.
Most Israelis are so fearful that, whatever happens, they want to live in a state with a Jewish majority, which is able to defend itself against outside aggression. The religious fanatics who want to establish a Jewish state across the whole of the Land of Israel are, thankfully, in a minority, although they have considerable political influence.
Most Israelis want a two-state solution, because Jews would be in a minority in a single state. They want to be in a majority in their own state, so that they can be in control of their own destiny.
A two-state solution may yet come about through negotiation. But it seems more likely to me that when peace talks fail a two-state solution will be imposed by Israel.
There’s an interesting article in today’s English language edition of Haaretz, entitled “The time to prepare for evacuation of the West Bank is now”. The author is Gilead Sher, a former chief-of-staff of Ehud Barak, when he was prime minister. Gilead Sher is now a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and co-chairman of Blue-White Future, an Israeli organisation which is pushing for the creation of separate Israeli and Palestinian states.
He writes: “Any border that is drawn between us and the Palestinians, whether arrived at by agreement, as a result of negotiations or set independently by Israel, will require the evacuation of settlements inhabited by tens of thousands of people, while retaining the large enclaves where most of the settlers live. …
“It is likely that the current round of talks, and maybe more rounds of talks in the future, will not result in an agreement that anchors the national interests of Israel, which will have to take measures on its own to draw the border and promote the two-state solution, in coordination with the United States.
“We must absorb these settlers who will be returning to Israel’s borders, whether they are determined by an agreement or the lack of one. We must prepare for the eventuality that the army will remain in places we evacuate and in the Jordan Valley until responsibility for security passes to an entity that is acceptable to us.”
So Palestinians in the West Bank can expect to be confined within a nominally independent state inside borders which have been drawn by Israel and over which Israel continues to maintain control. They might not be much better off than Palestinians in Gaza. And if they pose any kind of security threat to Israel they face the prospect of being bombed back a few decades as Gaza was.
If Israel were less paranoid, it might behave differently.
Prevention of another Holocaust need not be dependent on Jews having a state of their own in which they are in a majority. All of us, especially those of us who are not Jewish, need to actively oppose anti-Semitism just as we oppose any kind of racism. And Israeli politicians need to recognise that the oppression of Palestinians encourages anti-Semitism.
Good diplomacy should ensure that Israel is not attacked by its neighbours. In the past few months we have witnessed the success of diplomacy in dealing with Syrian chemical weapons. And now diplomatic efforts have brought us the beginnings of success in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme.
And we should not forget that Israel, with its nuclear arsenal, is arguably the most dangerous state in the Middle East. And the USA, not Iran, is arguably the most dangerous state in the world. Ask people in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Few Palestinians would be hostile towards Israel, if they didn’t have to suffer so much injustice. Many more Palestinians have been killed by Israelis in recent years than vice-versa. House demolitions, restrictions on movement, and the theft of land, water and other resources in the occupied Palestinian territories all provoke hostility towards Israel amongst Palestinians. The best thing that Israelis could do to improve their security is to do justice to the Palestinians and end the abuse of their human rights.
If you met a paranoid person in the street, would you give them a weapon? Would they then be less paranoid, if they had a weapon with which to defend themselves? Or would they be likely to use their weapon to eliminate the people whom they fear?
Should the USA and other states be giving weapons to the Israelis? Israel’s military is funded to a large extent by US taxpayers. Whatever else might be done, there should be a total ban on arms trade with Israel and an end to all military cooperation, including military research.