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State of Denial: Searching for Peace in Israel
Posted on Feb 12, 2010
By Robert Fisk
Tzipi Livni turned up to tell us that over the past 40 years “a certain reality has been created on the ground” – she meant settlements – “which takes very little of the surface of Judea and Samaria”. This was extraordinary. The leader of the Israeli opposition believes the colonisation of the West Bank “took little” territory. If Area C – the Israeli-occupied part of the West Bank – is already lost, then Mr Fayyad and his chums in their ‘Authority’ have less than 10 per cent of the original mandate ‘Palestine’ to claim. Livni, too, was against “a two-nation state” because “I have a doubt whether Jews will be able to live in that state at all.” I rather think Tzipi Livni is right about that, but she added that “no one will want to supply the keys of a Palestinian state to Hamas”. Too true. But isn’t it up to the Palestinians to elect their leadership, rather than Israel? It was Major General Benny Gantz who fascinated me. Benny is Israel’s military deputy chief of staff – and anyone who lives in this “tough neighbourhood” (I am borrowing Barak’s coinage) takes folk like Benny very seriously.
I live in Lebanon which is regularly visited by the Israeli air force, so I looked upon this dapper, slim officer – hair greying, with a Julius Caesar fringe – with almost fatal concern. His decisions – and he will probably be the next chief of staff – could cost me, or anyone else in Lebanon, dearly. The Gaza war, which most Israelis seem to refer to as ‘Operation Cast Lead’, and the ‘Second Lebanon War’ – a reference to the 2006 conflict with the Hizbollah which was, in fact, Israel’s fifth Lebanon war (the 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996 wars being the previous ones) – was part of a “learning process” which Israel and its enemies underwent. Iran was obviously Benny’s prime target.
Iran was “continuing to develop its nuclear project” and Israel was watching its “long-standing firing abilities ... exercises, drills, manoeuvring” and the “trickle-down” effect of all this on “terrorist organisations”. Israel could not ignore this situation. “We should be prepared…but of course I’m not going to elaborate on that point.”
Indeed, Benny would not want to elaborate on this point – an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities – which is the nightmare of not just the Middle East but of the Obama administration as well. Where he did talk frankly, however, he was very much to the point. The Lebanese Hizbollah was not just receiving smuggled weapons. “This is not ‘smuggling’ but a real arms transfer.” These new weapons, he said, were being deployed in villages that will become operational bases in a future war. And the government of Lebanon – which includes Hizbollah ministers – will be held responsible. Thus did Benny Gantz portray the next slaughter in the Middle East; if the Palestinians of Gaza were responsible for the bloodbath a year ago – this is, after all, the Israeli line – then the people of Lebanon will be responsible for their next war.
Indeed, they will pay the price. And in case any of us thought that the Gaza war might make Israel’s generals a bit worried about war crimes arrests on European holidays, there was Major General Gadi Eizenkot, Israel’s northern military commander, telling a Tel Aviv conference that Israel had the “moral” right to disproportionately attack Hizbollah “strongholds” in Lebanese villages. He suggested that 160 Shia Muslim villages in the UN’s area of control were now arms storage dumps – a palpable untruth, as the UN knows – and that villages further to the north were being turned into a “battleground”, which is indeed much closer to the truth.
But is there not another country in the Middle East which is receiving a “real arms transfer”? Was it not a corporate vice president of Lockheed Martin who announced last month – in Bahrain of all places – that his company hopes to sign a deal with Israel for up to 100 new F-35 jets, replacements for the F-16s that did so much damage to Gaza? Patrick Dewar, I should add, hoped to flog more of these planes to Gulf countries – which means Saudi Arabia – although we can be sure they won’t have quite the state-of-the-art offensive power as the ones sold to Israel. Israel itself is building more Merkava tanks and Namer armoured personnel carriers, completing a new squadron of Heron pilotless but missile-firing ‘drone’ aircraft with a 26-metre wingspan – the same as a Boeing 737 – and a maximum altitude of 45,000 feet, and acquiring new C130 Hercules aircraft and an upgrading of Apache helicopters with new advanced radar and targeting capabilities.
But Herzliya was, in the end, the same old story. Israel was surrounded by enemies, a small, vulnerable nation – we shall forget, here, its own estimated 264 nuclear warheads – under attack by the world for daring to defend itself.
Up in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was toasting that old scoundrel Silvio Berlusconi, who had announced that “my greatest dream is to include Israel among the European Union countries”. Italy and Israel were proud, he said, that they were part of a Judeo-Christian culture that is the basis for European culture. This was a bit much. Roman colonial rule in Judea and Samaria was a savage period in Jewish history and the fascist ruler of Italy – with whom Berlusconi sometimes shares an astonishing physical similarity – was not mentioned.
Netanyahu called the Italian Prime Minister a “courageous leader who is a great champion of freedom and a great supporter of peace.” It was a bit like Herzliya: an epic of self-delusion.
Silvio Berlusconi and I do have one thing in common: a liking for that fine Jerusalem hotel, the King David, whose staff are among the politest and friendliest in the world. I say this not just because they let me use their reception lap-top computer when the business centre closed down for the Sabbath, but because the bearded head of finance once asked me if he looked like a member of the Hizbollah. (And yes, I told him, he does.) The King David has even produced a video which boasts how someone who later became prime minister – one Menachem Begin – once blew it up (92 Britons, Arabs and Jews dead). But now I find a new booklet in my room, Jerusalem – Step by Step, by Batya and Avigdor Kornboim, which critiques other hotels. And of the American Colony Hotel in east Jerusalem, the Kornboims write: “Its proximity to the neighbourhood mosque and muezzin may prove bothersome.”
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