What if there isn’t a solution to what is politely called the “Arab Israeli dispute”, as if it were some dignified difference of opinion between sovereign nations. What if there is no two state solution, no one state solution, no road map, no basis for a lasting peace? What if the parties are so dedicated to destroying each other, that there is no prospect of a diplomatic solution brokered by the EU, America or anyone else?.
If a war is to end, then at least one side needs to want to stop fighting. There is every sign now that Hezbollah and the Israeli military are determined to continue this fight to the end. That’s what even Labour MPs in the Israeli Knessett were calling for yesterday: “no stalemate, no compromise – an end to Hezbollah”. Doves are in very short supply in Tel Aviv these days.
For its part, Hezbollah is equally resolved to fight a holy war against the Jewish state. The Islamic militants will not rest until Israel is driven into the sea – or until every Hezbollah martyr has won his place in paradise and Lebanon has been reduced a waste land.
There’s no real basis for negotiation here. No common ground, unifying principles, negotiating positions, honest brokers or give and take. Getting round a table in Geneva or anywhere else isn’t going to stop these people killing each other. Perhaps we have to come to terms to this ugly reality before the “West”, whatever that is, can be of any use in the region.
Of course, it offends our liberal principles to look at a conflict this way. Creatures of the Enlightenment, we like to believe there is always a rational solution to conflict. Has to be. War is madness, isn’t it? There is always a better way. Jaw Jaw and all that…
But you could equally have said this about Europe in the last century. Enlightenment didn’t do us much good then. Around a hundred million people lost their lives in two world wars, communist and fascist genocides, plus countless civil wars in Spain, Greece, former Yugoslavia etc. etc.. When we criticise Hezbollah for targeting Israeli civilians we forget that pattern bombing of Dresden, the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
So, we’re in no position to lecture people on stopping wars. Especially since we, Europe and America, were intimately involved in the creation of the very states – Lebanon, Israel, Iran, Iraq – which are now proving so fractious. We repeatedly rearranged the map of the Middle East to suit our economic and strategic designs – still are today in Iraq.
But the game has changed. They are fighting their own wars now within these artificial states – and we no longer call the shots. Increasingly, they do. Four British soldiers have died in the last few days. America is bogged down in Iraq and in no place to tell anyone what to do.
Yet, while I was in France on holiday last week, I kept hearing about how America and Europe should step in and stop the fighting in the Lebanon, “like a parent stops squabbling children”. Not only is this patronising, it is quite unrealistic and unhistorical. We just don’t have the power to do that kind of thing any more – and even if we did, we’d probably make it worse.
These aren’t our children and neither side seems concerned about “world opinion”. Israel thumbed its nose at the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, extending its military action when it was supposed to be observing a pause following the massacre of Lebanese children on Sunday. It is as naive to believe that America could stop Israel’s aggression as to believe that the Lebanese government could halt Hezbollah. Even if the US cut off military aid to Israel, about a billion and a half a year, the Israelis would fight on, financed by Jewish defence groups across the world.
For its part, Hezbollah may not actually have used human shields at Qana, but is quite prepared to do so. A force which routinely uses suicide bombing against civilians has no use for UN conventions on the conduct of war. Hezbollah looks for inspiration to the Mujihadeen who defeated the Russians in Afghanistan, to the insurgents in Iraq, and to Hamas in Gaza.
This is not to exonerate Israel for the bombing in Qana – a terrible act which is legitimately being compared to a war crime. But the point is that taking sides here is very difficult. There are no good guys left in the Middle East.
Israel thinks it is in a similar state of war against an implacable enemy. That it is fighting a new anti-semitic force dedicated to the extinction of their country. And the terrible thing is, it is probably right.
Hezbollah is, in part, Israel’s own creation – it was born under the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. The barbarity of the Hezbollah militants is a reflection of the barbarity of the Israeli massacres of Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla in 1982.
But Hezbollah is not like the PLO in Lebanon in the 1980s: a relatively small “state within a state”, composed of dispossessed Palestinians living in refugee camps. Hezbollah IS the state in most of southern Lebanon. It runs much of the civil administration, schools, hospitals and of course the military – there’s no way the other communities in Lebanon can curb its activities or its rockets.
So, if they aren’t going to stop fighting in the Middle East, what is there left for us to do apart from wring our hands and count the dead? Well, that’s not an insignificant role. The dead need to be remembered and war-crimes need to be recorded so that the perpetrators – on both sides – can be held to account. International law may not mean much right now in Lebanon, but it will in future when the fighting is finally over.
Humanitarian missions must continue, to minimise the civilian deaths in the Lebanon, and this will require the resolve of the international community. There has to be a curb on the sale of arms to the region – not that it will stop either side getting them. Channels of communication need to be kept open on both sides and all diplomatic avenues explored.
Above all, this war in Lebanon must be contained and not allowed to develop into what Tony Blair seems to be talking about – which is a generalised war against the Islamic world. He has made clear what side he’s on., and it isn’t the same as the Foreign Office. The Labour Party must restore his sense of proportion.
But let’s not have any illusions about sending in the blue helmets to keep the peace. There is no peace in the Lebanon and there won’t be until there is a resolution to the broader contradictions in the Middle East. And that isn’t in our gift
This is a terrible, terrible war – and it has a way to go yet.