Israel’s real friends must admit that the Middle East conflict
cannot have a military solution, says Jonathan Fryer
As Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza, a traumatised local
population mourned its dead. More than 1,200 Palestinians were killed and many
more disabled, an unconscionable number of them children. Countless livelihoods
were destroyed. The psychological effects among both young and old will take
years to gauge.
The physical destruction produced by the Israeli onslaught bears graphic
testimony to the disproportionality of the operation. Of course Israel has a
right to defend itself, and Hamas was both wicked and foolish to sanction rocket
barrages against indiscriminate civilian targets in Israel. But the
mercilessness of the invasion has guaranteed not only a new generation of
Palestinian hatred, but outrage across much of the world.
The Israeli Defence Force is claiming victory, but on what grounds? Hamas has
not been vanquished, even if some senior figures have been killed. If anything,
its status has been enhanced, rather as Hezbollah gained credibility in Lebanon
for being seen to stand up to the Israelis during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon.
The shaky Middle East peace process has been set back disastrously and
Turkish-led efforts at reconciliation between Israel and Syria have been
The United Nations estimates that the reconstruction of Gaza will cost billions
of dollars. But where will all that money come from? King Abdullah of Saudi
Arabia has pledged $1bn, and some emergency funding might be found in various UN
budgets to tackle needs such as food, medicine and temporary shelter. The
European Union will doubtless be approached for assistance, just as in the past
it has helped finance many infrastructure projects on the West Bank (sometimes
later to see them blown up by Israeli tanks and aircraft).
A strong case exists to seek war reparations from Israel, which may also find
itself being charged with war crimes. The United Nations is incandescent about
attacks on UN schools, in particular, and even the normally reticent Red Cross
has spoken out against the use of warfare inappropriate in highly populated
The timing of the Israeli operation was doubly cynical. Firstly, it was clearly
aimed at influencing the outcome of the Israeli general election, with both
Kadima and Labour wishing to portray themselves as being as hawkish as Likud.
Secondly, there was an obvious strategy to pull forces out before Barack Obama’s
inauguration in Washington, thereby neutralising the possibility of
uncharacteristic condemnation by the incoming US administration. President Obama
is thus presented with a dilemma about what exactly he should do. I am tempted
to suggest that he should divert some of the funds usually channelled as aid to
Israel to Gaza instead, but I can’t honestly see that happening.
So where does that leave Britain and the EU? As so often in foreign affairs, the
EU has shown itself lamentably disunited. Unfortunate serendipity meant that the
six-month rotating EU presidency is currently in the hands of the Czechs, who
virtually gave the Israeli assault their benediction. But few EU leaders came
out of the past few weeks smelling of roses. As for Gordon Brown, as Nick Clegg
so aptly said, he sat on his hands and talked like an accountant.
In contrast, Clegg was forthright in his criticism of the brutality of the
Israeli action, while also rightly blaming Hamas for its role in the
humanitarian catastrophe. Once again, as with Iraq, the Liberal Democrats are
the only mainstream political party in Britain to have seized the moral high
Of course, in this instance there will be some fierce opposition to the
leadership’s position from those Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel who believe
that the operation was regrettable but necessary. This should not deter Clegg
from holding his line and from moving on to broaden his focus from Gaza’s
tragedy to the situation in the West Bank. The occupation of Palestinian
territories for more than 40 years, the expansion of illegal settlements, the
construction of the Security Wall, the demolition of houses, the uprooting of
Palestinian olive trees and the daily impoverishment and humiliation of the
Palestinian population cannot legitimately be tolerated, let alone condoned.
True Friends of Israel, I believe, must acknowledge that there can never be a
military solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Violence only begets
violence and hatred. The only way forward, as the rebuilding of Gaza takes
place, is for both Israel and Hamas to swallow their pride and to talk.
We are well past the eleventh hour for a peaceful transition to a two-state
solution, in which a viable Palestine can live side-by-side with a secure
Israel. And that outcome will never happen unless there is good faith and
compromise on both sides, an end to the occupation, Israeli withdrawal to 1967
boundaries, and a permanent cessation of Palestinian rocket attacks and suicide
Jonathan Fryer is a prospective European Parliament candidate for
London and chair of Liberal International British Group
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