Friday, 20 May 2011


With apologies for the move away from political navel gazing, I find myself in the curious position of agreeing with arch schemer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over the speech by US President Obama. Mr Netanyahu has said that the 1967 ceasefire borders between Israel and Palestinian territories then controlled by Egypt and Jordan are indefensible and that a peace agreement made on this basis is unworkable.

Well, if he thinks this, he must come up with a viable alternative which recognises all the grievances of the Palestinians, such as the status of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the issue of illegal settlements across the West Bank and the intolerable treatment by Israel of over 1m people in Gaza.

He won't because it is not possible for an Israeli Politician to address these issues under current circumstances. Israel feels embattled and under threat and the policy of the Israeli government for decades to hit them before they hit us has patently failed.

There is a solution, which will be achieved at some time in the future, although it is almost certain that it will be many years - and thousands of lives wasted - down the line. In 1947 a plan was proposed by the new - and still idealistic - United Nations for a single state shared between Arabs and Jews, with Jerusalem as an 'international' city, with a shared country and demilitarisation. Most Israelis would howl in horror at the suggestion that this could work as it would mean the end of a state built on a religion - itself an ugly concept in a plural world. (I can think of only Pakistan as another state based on faith - and look how successful that has been)

What it could mean is a unique opportunity to get the fulsome support of the Arab regimes which are undergoing their own massive upheavals, the opportunity for Israelis to enjoy peace for the first time ever, the complete neutering of Hezbollah in Lebanon if it does not have a cause to fight for and the gratitude of millions of people around the world as a major cause for the artificial divide between the invented camps of 'The West' and 'Islam' is removed.

That's my problem: I'm a dreamer. Perhaps my grandchildren will be able to travel in peace around the eastern Mediterranean to view the sites: the old crusader castles, the great mosques, the eternal city of Jerusalem, the absurd wall which divided people for no reason.



  1. You are right to dream of peace. You could already go and see all the things that you want to see in Jerusalem today, incidentally, and I'm not sure what's stopping you? Jerusalem is thronging with tourists, and Muslims, Jews and Christians all enjoy access to their holy places.

    Anyway, Israel is not a state based on a religion. It's the national home of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people are a national community, not just a religious community. The creation of the State of Israel, if you read the history, has very little to do with 'religion' and has a lot to do with secular nationalism.

    You say that Pakistan is the only state that you can think of that is based on faith - that will come as interesting news to the Organisation of Islamic States, which has 57 members (including the Islamic Republic of Iran). Not to mention our own country, which has an established church and a head of state who is legally obliged to be an Anglican.

    The UN did not propose a one-state solution in 1947. The UN Special Committee on Palestine produced a majority report (proposing partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, with an international zone in Jerusalem) and a minority report, proposing a bi-national, single state. The UN General Assembly voted to endorse the majority report, partition and a two-state solution, on which basis Israel declared its independence, in line with the UN resolution. The Arab world rejected the UN resolution (which would have created a Palestinian state), invaded Israel and the rest is sadly history.

    We live in a world of nation-states (however much some liberals might idealistically wish otherwise), so why should the Jewish nation be the only nation not to be allowed a nation-state? Are the Irish, French and British similarly to each be denied the right to a nation-state? If there was a single state of Israel/Palestine, what would happen if one community became the majority and started persecuting the other? A two-state solution remains the only viable solution.

  2. And therein lies the problem. This is a polarising issue on which there is no middle ground or possibility of compromise.

    Israel is a Jewish state whose government is introducing a requirement that all Israelis - including Israeli Arabs - must agree to this fact. If the British government required everyone in this country to agree that this was a Christian state there would be an outcry, and quite rightly so.

    The Organisation of Islamic States represents a number of states which have Islam as their religion but your reading of my blog is selective. Both Israel and Pakistan were founded as religious states.

    Britain has an established church and the head of state is the head of that church but we wear that cloak very lightly, after centuries of religious strife. Britain is one of the most diverse and liberal countries in the world and we put every country in the Eastern Mediterranean to shame for our pluralism. Every country. There may need be a conversation about disestablishmentarianism but it will be based on freedom and debate, not borders, colonies and oppression. That's a huge difference.

    Your point about the 1947 plan is correct - my mistake. But the UN plan envisaged a very fluid sense of two states, with a common currency and demilitarised borders, plus the resolution of the Jerusalem issue.

    As for the view of the Arab invasion, that is partial and betrays your loyalties since it completely ignores the years of land grabs, violence and clearances carried out by Jews arriving from Europe and further afield. Israel was born in violence - on both sides - and that has not stopped yet.

    Also, I admire your view of Jerusalem as being free to all when Arabs living there cannot leave because if they do they will not be allowed back. And how many Arab tourists from Gaza visit Jerusalem each week?

    Regrettably we do live in a world of nation states, although we are lucky to live in a country of nations, not strictly a nation state. As I have said above, we have suffered to achieve this level of freedom. I continue to wish that Israelis and Palestinians could avoid the bloodshed which they face by their respective intransigence and move on a stage.

    When Palestine seeks UN recognition in September, will the response be constructive engagement from Israel? Even this optimist is very sceptical.

    Thanks for your comments. Argument is still better than the alternatives!

  3. Thank you. Is there really no middle ground or possibility of compromise? Are you therefore saying that President Obama is wrong to try to re-start peace talks? What is your alternative to peace talks?

    Here is an interesting piece on Israel's proposed 'loyalty oath' for new citizens:

    Anyone who becomes a citizen of the UK has to swear the following oath: "I, [name], [swear by Almighty God] [do solemnly, sincerely and truly affirm and declare] that, on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs, and successors, according to law."

    So everyone has to swear allegiance to the Queen, who as well as being Head of State is Head of the Established Church. I have no problem with this whatsoever, as I am a monarchist and I do not support the disestablishment of the Church of England, but it is surely not a million miles from Israel's oath?

    If you read Israel's Declaration of Independence, it is clear that Israel was not founded as a religious state: Israel is a secular state:

    Israel's Supreme Court arguably protects the rights of all citizens, including citizens from minority communities, even more effectively than such rights are protected in Britain.

    Israel is a country in which all citizens have the vote, serve in Parliament, serve as judges (an Israeli Arab judge recently sentenced a former Israeli president to a prison term), serve as diplomats...Which doesn't alter the fact that there is much work to be done to improve matters further:

    Re:- your comments about land grabs, violence, etc, my views on the wider issues are best summarised in a piece that I wrote for this issue of Liberator,, on pages 10 and 11 if you wish to read it.

    I agree that things are from perfect in Jerusalem; it is, however, a city in which there is basically freedom of worship for people who live there, which has certainly not been the case for much of its history. But I do not deny that there is much that needs to change and I was interested to read this piece:

    Re: where we are now and the run-up to September, I found this an interesting article:

  4. Matthew, thanks for your comments, which are clearly considered but I struggle to equate the claims for Israeli pluralism with the reports from journalists about the repression - and continued, regular killings - of Palestinians and the continued intransigence of Israeli politicians in the face of a clear need to change strategy. Israel cannot have peace on its terms and it must indeed seek a middle way and compromise, as you suggest.

    I cannot see how any such compromise can be based on the status quo, which is one of occupation by Israel of another country, recognised or not, and with Israel carrying out what would be called terror attacks if they were done by any other country or group.

    [A ship in international waters was attacked by Israeli troops. If, for example, the Libyan navy had done that there would have been a justifiable outcry. If the people on board this imagined ship had resisted such an assault by Libyan - or any other country's - forces, they would have been hailed as heroes.]

    Recourse to Israel's declaration of independence and its laws is fair enough but I'm afraid I cannot but think of all those 'democratic' communist states which were anything but. That may seem extreme but it demonstrates the limitations of fine words to reinforce real freedoms.

    The bald fact is that Palestinians are discriminated against in Israel and the occupied territories, whether they hold a passport or not. Can a democratic country justify that?

    To come back to my original point, I cannot see any alternative to a single, shared state and I would like to see some recognition at least of a need to consider such options in Israel and the USA.

  5. Thank you. You refer to journalists' reports of how Israel treats Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. I'm talking about something else - how Israel treats its own citizens, including Arab citizens, in Israel proper; in that sense, Israel is a pluralist Parliamentary democracy in which all citizens have rights. The issue of how how Israel treats the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, while obviously being enormously important, is a different issue from how people are treated in Israel itself. Also, you are aware, presumably, that Palestinians in the West Bank have used Israel's Supreme Court to oblige Israel to alter the route of its security barrier?

    Indeed, a compromise cannot be based on the status quo. We need to move on from the status quo. As President Obama has said, the Palestinians need to work out how Israel can be expected to do business with a Palestinian government that includes a group (Hamas) pledged to Israel's destruction. The Israelis need to make the compromises that would enable the creation of a viable Palestinian state that would live in peace alongside a secure Israel.

    Israel has repeatedly offered enormous compromises (, following the huge concessions (including territorial concessions and the removal of settlements) that it successfully made to secure a lasting peace first with Egypt, and then with Jordan.

    Further such compromises will be necessary in future. As the Israeli Prime Minister said on Monday, if the Palestinians "choose to recognize the State of Israel and abandon terrorism, they will find a unified people that is willing to make peace and is prepared for peace with concessions, but it must be real peace. That is what we want."

    I don't accept your characterisation of the flotilla incident; did you see this BBC Panorama programme about it? I urge you to watch the whole thing.

    I reject your comparison with 'democratic' communist countries. Israel is not a country in which anyone is discriminated against. It is a normal western-style Parliamentary democracy with a free press, universal suffrage, an independent judiciary, etc. How is that remotely comparable to somewhere like the old East Germany?

    What you're talking about is Israel's behaviour outside its recognised borders, in the West Bank and Gaza - and that's a different issue from how people are treated in Israel itself.

    A one-state solution is a terrible idea. It is often put forward and debated. The Palestinians deserve a state of their own.

    Israel was created to be a Jewish nation-state, because Jews had been persecuted as a minority in so many other countries over many centuries, hence the need to create one state in which they were not a minority, and in which they could take refuge when persecuted elsewhere.

    Millions of Jews had nowhere to go to in the 1930s, because most countries (Britain included) would not take many of them in, and Britain barred them from entering Palestine. Had there been a state of Israel, they would have gone there; instead, they were murdered in the Holocaust. What would happen in your one state if it became an Islamist state - what would would then happen to the Jewish minority living there?

  6. Matthew, thanks for your comments, which I will allow to go unanswered as I fear we are never going to agree and it is a shame to continue this interesting discussion in the backwater of my blog.

    I read your blog post and it is very interesting. I still mourn the tragic loss of Yitzhak Rabin, another Israeli patriot who saw the future and tried to achieve peace in a dignified way. Let's hope there are more like him and the latest group of military men who can achieve real peace.