Peace in our time?
So Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has told French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that he is willing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. This of course is entirely unconnected with the nine million euros that France is giving to the Palestinian Authority. One wonders how much of the nine million will go towards paying the backlog of unpaid salaries of various PA employees, how much will go on a new presidential Mercedes and how much will wind up in various Swiss bank accounts. One thing is for sure, this is a bribe and the French, pragmatists par excellence when it comes to foreign policy, will not be looking too closely at where the money goes.
Fabius reportedly categorically stated, at least according to the Palestinian news agency WAFA, that the west Bank Israeli settlements and building in East Jerusalem were illegal. What he probably said was that they were regarded as illegal. Is there a difference? Only if you think that if something is illegal then a prosecution for breaking the law follows. The question of legality has not been tested in a court of law and nobody is in a hurry for that to happen. Imagine the embarrassment if the settlements are in fact legal. The opposite is true as well, of course.
So will they give peace a chance?
Quite simply and very bluntly the PA cannot make peace. Abbas personally may want to but a significant number of Palestinians do not want a deal with Israel under any terms. They are very likely a minority but unfortunately they are a minority who will pick up a gun rather than accept a decision that is desired by the majority of their fellow Palestinians. To a lesser degree the same may be said of Israel except that a clear majority of Israelis want peace and are prepared to see an Israeli Government make concessions to get it. Israel is a real working democracy and would not tolerate some sort of armed rebellion against a government decision whilst elections are long overdue both in Gaza and the West bank.
I have to point out that twice Israel has offered peace, based on the 1948 ceasefire lines and land swops. Twice the Palestinians have turned down the offer. The last time the Arab League and in particular Saudi Arabia urged Abbas to sign. Both the Israeli Government and the PA publicly agree that the final settlement will contain land swops. The Palestinians now say that recent building and planning approval for building in Israeli settlements and East Jerusalem jeopardises any chance of peace. Let’s be very clear here because it is under-reported in the Western media. The building and planning consents granted are all in settlements that in land swops would become part of Israel. I repeat, there is general agreement between Israel and the PA (Palestinian Authority) about which land is going to be swopped for what. As far as the other Israeli settlements are concerned if the Palestinians are worried that Israel would not dismantle them all the have to do is look at Gaza. When Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza not only did they forcibly evict those settlers who were refusing to go, they also removed Jewish cemeteries. Admittedly because the Arabs in general have proven to be no respecters of Jewish dead,as proven in East Jerusalem under Jordanian control. Grave markers were removed and used in public urinals and graves were desecrated. Be that as it may, Israel completely moved out of Gaza and left the Palestinians to it. Yet another golden opportunity they, the Palestinians, managed to waste.
Next year in Jerusalem
The official PA line is that Jerusalem has no historical connection with Jews. In private many PA officials are clearly uncomfortable with this piece of nonsense but it remains as official policy and really is a major obstacle to any agreement. If you reflect on this, it also denies the Christian narrative. If the Jews have no connection with Jerusalem then why did Jesus, born of a Jewish mother, go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a Jewish religious festival? Do they mean that the Jews of today have no connection with the Jews of antiquity? Well ignoring the well-chronicled Jewish diaspora we come to the world of DNA. any claims that the Jews of today have no connection with the Jews of biblical Israel can be well and truly laid to rest. Where do they think ‘we’ come from then? All European converts perhaps? That makes a lot of sense doesn’t it and I can just imagine the conversation between a man and his wife. ‘Hey, let’s convert to this Jewish religion and become a persecuted minority. If we’re really lucky the Inquisition will burn us at the stake’. Beggars belief really but then so many Arab and Palestinian claims do. Doesn’t stop them and some people believing them though.
For at least one thousand nine hundred years the Jewish festival of Passover has traditionally ended with the words ‘next year in Jerusalem’. Think about that number for a moment. It predates the advent of Islam, it predates the Arab occupation of Jerusalem, it predates centuries of Christian persecution of the Jews in Europe. Now if not forgotten the persecution of Jews in Europe has been, shall we say smoothed over. Laws throughout Europe have been enacted to prevent the persecution of religious and other minorities, not just Jews of course, and the Vatican has been moved to apologise for it’s past incitement of hatred against Jews. To Israelis and Jews worldwide Jerusalem is a symbol of religious freedom and freedom from persecution and has been for one thousand nine hundred years. It will be emotionally hard but not impossible to reach some sort of deal with the Palestinians over Jerusalem. We will not tolerate a divided city again and Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel but perhaps a way can be found to satisfy Palestinian aspirations as well. Please note that Israel is prepared at least to talk about it whilst the PA simply insists that the city be divided. Ever since the Oslo accords Israel’s policy on negotiations has been ‘let’s agree on the easier things first and then discuss the hard things’. The Palestinian approach has been to make a series of demands which amount to a final settlement which must be fulfilled before they will sit at the table. One wonders what they imagine there would be left to discus.
You will have noticed I referred to the Arab occupation of Jerusalem. Jerusalem as a physical place existed long before the advent of Islam. Islamic armies conquered Jerusalem and built the Al-Aqsa mosque on the site of the first and second Jerusalem Temples, the holiest sites in the Jewish faith. If one were to employ the arguments put forward by those who say the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal then by extension one would have to say that the Arab occupation of Jerusalem was illegal as well. Where would that leave us? Well of all the various empires over the years which did occupy Jerusalem the only that exists today is the present State of Israel. Other countries simply either no longer exist or exist but no longer have empires. Think the UK and Italy, to name but two. Perhaps it might be better if all concerned relied less on history and more on pragmatic discussion. Well here’s some breaking news that’s been breaking for the last twenty years. Israel is prepared to do just that.
A further stumbling point is the Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. True they have, albeit through gritted teeth recognised the right of the State of Israel to exist but not as a Jewish state. What are they really thinking? Yes there may well be a state called Israel but one that encompasses all of the present State of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and it will be a Muslim state? There is a short answer to that and the words ‘never again’ encompass the answer.
Think about this as well. Under Israeli law the rights of religious minorities are protected. The holy shrines of other religions are protected by law and religious and ethnic minorities can be and are Israeli citizens. Contrast this with the persecution of Christian Arab minorities in the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank. I won’t mention the threats facing the Egyptian Coptic community although I am sorry to say that in present-day Arab Islamic states that pretty much sums up Islamic tolerance. Other Muslim states are more tolerant so it isn’t the religion that’s at fault. Strangely enough Iran tolerates religious minorities, something else perhaps to think about.
Israel is repeatedly referred to as an apartheid state. Please read this article comparing Israel and Australia. It is written by an Australian living in Israel and having recently been in the Australian Northern Territories I personally think the writer’s comments about Aboriginal educational achievements are both harsh and only tell half of the story. The other half is to do with Aboriginal aspirations and having had a couple of conversations with Aboriginals their aspirations are not necessarily the same as the rest of Australia’s. To criticise successive Australian governments for failing to persuade the Aboriginals to embrace a totally foreign culture may be historically accurate but there are two sides to every story. The important thing for the purposes of this article is the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in Israel. If you read this with an open mind then I am certain you will agree that claims of Israel being an apartheid state are nonsense. It isn’t perfect but name me one country which is. Contrast this with the PA who wish to establish an all-Muslim state. Admittedly they have not explicitly said this but by their actions and various statements they clearly do not want any Jews in their state and by their actions they are not tolerant of Christian Arabs either. By contrast Israel is not saying that if a Palestinian state comes into being that all Israeli Arabs must leave Israel and relocate to the new state.
The sands of time
Since the PA rejected the last Israeli peace offer they can’t help but notice that the actual as opposed to promised funding from external sources has slowed. The Arab states annually agree a figure and regularly deliver perhaps a third or half of what was promised. The EU, publicly very supportive of the PA and anti-Israel, have quietly become more interested in where the various monies from grants actually goes and in some cases have cut grants. The EU-funding of water wells springs to mind (no pun intended). Israel regularly approves virtually all applications to dig wells in Israeli-controlled territory. The PA asked for and got grants for all the approved applications and actually actioned about a third of them, then complained of a water shortage. The EU investigated that one and weren’t best pleased. A suspension of the grant then followed.
Abbas is following a high-risk strategy by going to the UN and asking for statehood before any agreement has been reached with Israel. Israel will not be railroaded into an agreement and any attempts to do so can only end in tears all round. Both sides know that the present talks are unlikely to lead anywhere but neither is willing to openly admit it after the Americans invested so much political capital in getting the talks started again. The PA are already busy making statements blaming Israel for the coming collapse of the talks whilst Israel says nothing but has their fingers crossed that something may come out of them. Hence the French bribe and hence Abbas wanting to talk to Netanyahu. Perhaps he has in mind to offer Bibi (Netanyahu) a ‘piece of the action’ but I know what the answer would be.
I had the pleasure of meeting a blog reader last night. You do crop up in the most unexpected places! To follow-on from that I had an email this morning from somebody in the UK who also follows them. I’m always delighted to meet or hear from readers but here’s a plea. Why not sign-up to follow the blog? I promise that you won’t be suddenly inundated by emails offering dodgy medications nor will I be sending out any begging letters!