Jim Sillars: Middle East lacking real leadership

A boy is wounded in the Gaza conflict. Picture: AP
A boy is wounded in the Gaza conflict. Picture: AP
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Some day we must hope that those with the power to do so will realise that when they let slip the dogs of war, there is no guarantee they will control them, or achieve their purposes. War, the licensed killing of people, is a condition that has dominated human existence from the hunter-gatherers to the present-day sophisticated technological world.

Today, families are in emotional agony as a result of the missile that struck the Malaysian plane, eliminating children and a scientific generation. In Israel, families are mourning their dead, and in Palestine a whole community is living in chaos and death at a level bordering on massacre. Dogs of war devour people, and no matter what euphemisms are used about collateral damage, or what lame Putin-style hypocrisies come forth, lives cut short is the reality.

As a young idealist I told my grandfather that my generation would end wars. I remember him shaking his head, saying, “There will always be wars and rumours of wars.” I didn’t believe him. I do now. I am not a pacifist, and recognise that states, and those who face tyranny, must have in the final analysis recourse to the use of violence. It makes it all the more imperative that we have leaders who use it sparingly, recognise its possible consequences when they do use it, and who exercise the maximum control. That requires leadership of the highest order. A survey of the world today shows a grave shortage.

There is lack of quality leadership in Palestine and Israel. The era of Yasser Arafat was a curse on the Palestinians. Due to his corruption, authoritarianism, extravagant language, crude diplomacy, and poor negotiating skills, he failed to build the same kind of powerful support among world governments and people as the African National Congress created against apartheid. The Israelis, with powerful 
lobbies in the United States and the UK, and their well-trained diplomats, have run PR rings round the Palestinians in dealing with world opinion. Due to Palestinian incompetence, it is still little known that Israel aided the South African apartheid government towards building a nuclear weapon. A fact, if widely known, that would have destroyed Israel’s claimed reputation as an upholder of democracy.

The American Israeli Political Action Committee controls the US Congress. Here, two powerful pro-Israeli organisations sit at the heart of British democracy. Gordon Brown and a long list of Labour MPs and peers are members of the Labour Friends of Israel. Some 80 per cent of the Tory MPs are members of Conservative Friends of Israel, with David Cameron, at a CFI function declaring himself a “passionate friend” of Israel. According to the well-known principle that guides all foreign policy, states do not have special friends or relations with other states, only interests. That US congressmen and senators, and British MPs, should pledge themselves to Israel, is a remarkable triumph for the Israelis.

However, that triumph cannot hide that when it comes to being judged against what is required, the Israeli leadership is no better than that of the Arabs. Neither side has produced its Mandela figure, one who can speak truth not only to the other side, but to his own people. What we have seen over the years, the killing and the wells of hatred getting deeper, will continue.

Two things are required from the Israelis if peace is to come. One, to admit, which they have never done, that in creating the State of Israel, they did so at the expense of the Palestinians who had legal title to land. Former prime minister Golda Meir made the infamous claim: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. It is not as if we came and then threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.”

Second, is to acknowledge that their illegal settlements policy, which deliberately spreads Israeli enclaves throughout the West Bank, has rendered a viable contiguous Palestinian state impossible to achieve – unless they are willing to quit most of them. But a now powerful “settler vote,” can veto that policy.

On the Palestinian side, the PLO flounders in the West Bank, and in Gaza, Hamas either no longer controls every rocket site, or is in a pathological state of mind that still believes the impossible, that it can wipe Israel, with its 200 nuclear warheads, off the map. There is no big Palestinian leader who can tell the truth, that Israel is a state that is here to stay; that there is no prospect of Palestinian refugees returning and reclaiming the land they once owned. There is no Palestinian leader able to deliver that bitter pill. Yet without that truth, the myth of “return” will remain potent, and continue to fire anger, and rockets.