No: it is a tragedy

Melanie Phillips has an agonised article in Prospect that makes me think better of her. At the same time, it bodes very badly for the future of Israel. She visited the country on a government-sponsored freebie: she got to talk freely to lots of important people. Why not? She is, as the standfirst describes her, “an ardent supporter of Israel” — one of the most eloquent in the British press. And she concludes that unilateral, immediate withdrawal from the Occupied Territories is all that can save the country now.

For a start, she sees that the occupation of the territories is not going to work.

“Israel appears to be caught in a deadly trap. It tried negotiations; these led to violence. It tried armed self-defence; this has not stopped the violence. It has retreated from Palestinian cities; this has increased the violence. Some likudniks don’t accept they are trapped. The line, at least until Sharon’s recent talk of disengagement, is that they are on course for victory. ‘We are winning, because the Palestinians are a bunch of losers’, said an official. This was not only unpleasant, but surely wrong.”

Beyond that, there is the demographic fear.

“If Israel continues to hold the territories, with a few years, there will be more Arabs than Jews between the river Jordan and the mediterranean. No matter that most of these Palestinians will be outside Israel’s borders; if Israel continues to rule arabs who outnumber Jews, the momentum for one person, one vote will become unstoppable. If Israel granted it, it would be the end of the Jewish state. If it did not, it would not only become a true pariah in the world but would cause a devastating implosion within the collective Jewish conscience.”

So she finds people both on Left and Right, who believe that Israel is compelled by its own self-interest to do the right thing. But the fact remains that the Palestinians still hate them, and want them all gone. Israel is not going to feel safe within its own borders, not even possessing nuclear, chemical and bacteriological deterrents along with a formidable army. So what is the answer suggested to Melanie Phillips by a senior member of Ehud Barak’s negotiating team? “Sher’s answer is that withdrawal should be accompanied by a commitment from the Americans to take responsibility for guaranteeing security in the territories.”

Right. Just as the American policy in Iraq has become bipartisan and clear — declare democracy and get the hell out — smart and influential Israelis suppose that they can get American troops to garrison the West Bank for them if they pull their own troops back. No. It really isn’t funny.

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