Bruce Anderson: Peace for Israel requires a break from history
“Give us peace in our time, O Lord”. Does the English language contain a more moving, more heart-felt — more heart-rending — invocation? But when children are pulled out of the rubble and other children cower in bomb shelters, it is more a matter of “Give us original sin in all times”. Everyone is calling for peace, and there is a sub-text in the messages delivered to the Israelis: “What do you think that all this is achieving?”
The Israelis have an answer. Hamas is their implacable foe, committed to the destruction of Israel. Why should they wait to fight at their enemy’s convenience? They have a point, but so do their pro-Israeli Western critics. On the one hand, it does seem that a lot of the current Israeli strikes have hit their intended targets. The formidable success of Israel's high-tech industries is manifesting itself in an enhanced capacity for smart warfare. On the other hand, when the latest fighting ends, Gaza will still be there. Even if the Hamas leadership has been decapitated, there will be a reservoir of embitterment. Humiliation and defeat are potent recruiting sergeants. However often the Israelis win, there is no sign that they will ever deter.
Let us also assume that it will become easier and easier to make weapons of mass destruction, and to miniaturise them. Will the murderous fanatics of the future content themselves with blowing up a bus stop in Tel Aviv, when they could destroy half the city?
There is no easy solution to this problem. If the Israelis did a deal with Palestine tomorrow, there would still be deep wells of hatred. But: imagine a Palestinian state on the West Bank, including almost all the pre-1967 territories, apart from those which have been absorbed in the Jerusalem suburbs. In exchange for moderation, it would receive large amounts of international aid, including funds for transport links with Gaza. The current Jordanian system would survive. All the governments would have an incentive to co-operate in curbing terrorism.
Apropos of Jordan, that wise and good man Prince Hassan has a favourite phrase, which applies to the whole region: “We live in a dangerous neighbourhood”. If peace broke out tomorrow, many people would hate it. The bomb and the bullet are good antidotes to the peace-makers’ endeavours. But there would be a chance. Without a deal, ultimately, there is no chance. Sooner or later, the dangerous neighbourhood would find a sort of peace, when it drowned in blood.
“Give us peace in our time, O Lord” is especially appropriate now that Advent is approaching. This Christmas, one man might have expected to enjoy the festivities around his own hearth-rug with his wife and children; all the more poignant, no doubt, after the number of Christmases which he has spent abroad, serving his country in hardship and in danger. Instead, as matters stand, Sergeant Danny Nightingale will spend Christmas in prison.
The whole affair will strengthen millions of people in their growing conviction that this country is going insane. It is hard to overestimate the damage that an event like this does to public confidence. Sergeant Nightingale deserves to be released to a hero’s welcome, now. Someone must get a grip and do it.
Another, even more eminent, soldier has been in trouble and it will be harder to organise his hero's welcome. General David Petraeus has done some service to the state and is still needed. It is vexing that his career has been ended by a peccadillo. We can only be thankful that the same rules did not prevent Admiral Nelson from saving and dying for his country.