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Israel must face the decision it has avoided for 40 years

10/01/2009

Philip Stephens at the FT begins an interesting article on why Israel’s military strength is losing the peace, with the following comments:-

Israel will never turn armed might into strategic security. If need be, it could win a war against all its enemies combined. But if it wants peace it must face the decision it has avoided for 40 years: withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories. Military victories and land grabs are futile. Security will come only with political resolution.

As it happens, these are not my sentiments, though I certainly share them. They were among some valedictory reflections offered by Ehud Olmert, Israel’s outgoing prime minister, when he announced his resignation last September.

Israel, Mr Olmert volunteered during an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth* newspaper, had long looked to its military for answers. But, through all the country’s many wars had the generals learnt “a single thing”? Tanks, controlling territory, holding this or that hill – “these things are worthless”. Security lay in peace with its neighbours.

The moment had come for someone to break the spell. Save for negotiated land swaps, Israel had to hand back the West Bank to the Palestinians and to share control of Jerusalem. Peace with Syria was possible only with the return of the Golan Heights. “What I am saying here has never been said by a leader of Israel. But the time has come to say these things.”

Stephens then elaborates on his thesis and finishes with these words:-

plenty of Israeli politicians and officials will agree that the parameters of peace are clear. Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state unless Palestinians are given statehood. Syria will never make peace without the return of territory now occupied by Israel. What is required, as Mr Olmert might have said last September, is the imagination to see a future beyond military victories. Let us hope it is still not too late to say these things.

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