by Jonathan Todd
It is argued that the Palestinians have two options: to support Hamas, terror and destruction, or support Abbas, negotiations and statehood. Which may mean Israel also has two options: work with the Palestinians if they back Abbas and frustrate them if they don’t.
It might, however, be thought that they both have third options, which are variants on these options. In the Israeli case, this would be the “do nothing” option, perpetuating a status quo that doesn’t deliver peace but, notwithstanding the recent murders of teenagers and continued rockets from Gaza, largely secures security in an unstable region. For the Palestinians, this third option would be violence beyond the control of Hamas, driven by even more extreme ideology.
Some contend that Hamas is as extreme as they come and that suggestions to the contrary only obscure the responsibilities held by the Palestinian Authority for the maintenance of order. Yet closer scrutiny of Gaza, supposedly under the control of Hamas, reveals possibilities further beyond the pale than them.
As much as the extent to which the Palestinians have options beyond Hamas can be debated, the viability of the status quo as an Israeli option is perilous. The democratic and Jewish character of the state depends upon a two-state solution. Recent discontents increase the plausibility of a third intifada, which would shatter the security that Israelis may have grown complacent in presuming attaches to the status quo. This intifada would be more likely if the Palestinians were to back more extreme options than Hamas, underlining the combustible incapability of the Israeli and Palestinian third options.
Abbas is the crucial pivot for both sides around which a brighter future could form. If the Palestinians could back him in making the painful compromises necessary for negotiations to advance, Israelis support reciprocate in backing their government in making the painful compromises that they too will need to make for negotiations to succeed. Yet, appallingly, it’s hard to disagree with Prospect Editor Bronwen Maddox when she concludes that recent tragedies make this less likely than it already was.
Let’s, though, play a thought experiment and imagine Maddox is mercifully wrong. Would a two-state solution be the key to a broader regional peace?
Having seen the region’s sectarian fault lines brutally exposed, it strains credulity to conclude anything other than, sadly, not. The Shia-Sunni divide, argues Olivier Roy, a professor at the European University Institute in Italy, is a war through proxies waged by Iran and Saudi Arabia. This seems to me the fundamental dynamic in the region. It is within this vortex, rather than the Israel-Palestine conflict, that much of the region can be explained.
Yet Blair, Labour and Palestine, Conflicting Views on Middle East Peace After 9/11, Toby Greene’s exhaustive study, recently published in paperback, reminds us that those holding these conflicting views were united a decade ago in thinking that peace between the Israelis and Palestinians would produce a broader regional peace.
Blair, according to Greene, adopted a ‘confrontationalist’ approach to the challenge of political Islam, which was in contrast to the more ‘accommodationist’ instincts of many within Labour, who tended to see the anti-Western sentiments of Islamists as driven by specific political grievances that could potentially be ameliorated. The two-state solution, for the ‘confrontationalists’, would undermine political Islam as a beachhead of liberal democracy and values in the region, while, on the ‘accomodationist’ view, it would resolve Israel’s historic injustices, undercutting the motivation of the political Islamists.
These divergent views are largely captured in the question of Dr Neill Lochery, quoted by Greene in his introduction, whether Israel was the front line against global terror or was at the root cause of it. If, like the ‘confrontationalists’, we think that terror is defeated by the spread of liberal, democratic values then we think the former. In contrast, we think the latter if we see terror as being a response to particular injustices, which ‘accomodationists’ tend to see Israel as a key perpetrator of.
In the decade since these divergent views convulsed the Labour party, it has become increasingly obvious, as demonstrated by my thought experiment, that Israel is neither of the things that Lochery’s question invites us to conclude. It is neither the root cause of violence in the Middle East, which is more involved with the rolling conflict between Shia and Sunni, and nor would democratic statehood for both Israel and Palestine, at least in the near term, seem likely to be a powerful enough pull to substantially diminish this violence.
For Israelis and Palestinians peace and dignity through a two-state solution remains an urgent priority. To the extent that we are able, Labour should seek to play a constructive and even-handed role in this process.
We should not, however, overstate our capacity to influence this or the broader implications of it coming to a happy conclusion. It’s marginal significance to the wider region, as well as some of the sharpest dilemmas in British foreign policy, is exposed in the lack of clarity over whether it is forces aligned to Shia Iran or Sunni Saudi that most warrant confrontation or accommodation. Labour needs to move beyond the ways of thinking that Greene does much to illuminate.
Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut