Every time hostilities erupt in the Levant, and quite a lot of the rest of the time too, I get the dubious pleasure of witnessing the same set of stale arguments about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. First, some crazy leftie starts babbling about Zionist war crimes, land grabs, settlements and, if he’s feeling excitable, genocide and holocausts, after which a hefty section of the crowd bursts out into riotous applause. Then some respectable-looking conservative says we have to remember that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and that Hamas is a terrorist organisation which deliberately targets civilians, after which a rather smaller section of the crowd, mostly composed of Jews desperately (and pathetically) happy that someone doesn’t think they are all a bunch of organ- stealing demons, tries to get a few cheers going. Then a centrist, effortlessly channeling respectable opinion, says that while, of course, Israel has right to defend itself it is not doing so proportionately and, further, it’s being pretty beastly with those awful settlements, but that, in any case, the main thing is that both sides put aside their differences and resentments and come to an equitable deal.
What absolutely everyone agrees on, however, is that the solution to the problem is a Palestinian State. They may disagree about which side has been more beastly lately and who is standing in the way of peace, what is the best way to get there and how fast, and a million other things, but the idea that, in principle, there should be a Palestinian state and that this will, basically, solve things is undisputed. The only real dissent from the two-state-solution is found in the significant minority of people who want one Palestinian state covering the entire area. In all my years in England I could probably count on one hand the number of people I have met who do not want a Palestinian state. Any Jew who holds this position for religious reasons will tend to make aliyah before too long, and Born Again types, if there are any left in Blighty, tend to keep themselves quiet or slope off to Arkansas.
Well, I don’t want a Palestinian state, not now and not any time in the foreseeable future, and if you do, then you either haven’t thought about it properly or, well, that’s the only option, because the whole idea is really quite straightforwardly loopy, as I hope will become clear.
The reason why I don’t want the Palestinians to have a state is not because it’s not their land, or because they don’t have a right to self-determination or because its forbidden according to Jewish law to hand over parts of the land of Israel, or even because it would pose a security threat. You can argue with any of that if you want. The reason I don’t want a Palestinian state is quite indisputable, but its indisputability is only matched by the extent to which it is taboo, the degree to which even to utter it, nay, even to think of it, is to trample on innumerable orthodoxies of our age.
The reason I don’t want a Palestinian state is because they will make a big fat mess of it.
This truth is so obvious that sometimes when I see the wise of this and other nations pontificating about the need for a “free, prosperous and democratic Palestine” I sometimes wonder whether I have woken up in a different universe in which enlightened westerners can limitlessly re-shape the world using only the power of their own self-righteousness. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, I realize I’m still in the old one where clueless politicians endlessly repeat their favorite clichés without ever letting something so petty as reality get in their way of their half-baked ethical imperatives.
What exactly is it about the recent history of the Middle East that leads us to think the forthcoming Republic of Palestine is going to be a real goer of a place? Is it the rich and fascinating constitutional history of Iraq? Or perhaps our hopes are based on the thriving economic powerhouses that are Egypt and Syria? Maybe it is Libya that provides a model for a future stable Arab democracy? Or Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain or Somalia or (who knows) maybe it is that epitome of peace and prosperity, Sudan, upon which we ground our unquestioning hopes? The only Arab states that are in any recognizable sense of the word successful are tiny Emirates sitting on top of almost inconceivable amounts of oil which western companies extract out of the ground for them, whilst all the rubbish jobs are done by south Asians and the like living more or less as indentured servants (85% of the population of Dubai). Even copious amounts of the precious black fluid, however, have not been enough to prop up most Arab countries whose inhabitants were so blinded by self-righteous greed that they told western experts to get lost so they could drill the stuff themselves. When it comes to the bulk of Arab countries, decrepit sort-of-constitutional monarchies presiding over just-about-functioning economies are about the best they can manage, which doesn’t give the rest much hope, since most plausible candidates for the role of Arab monarch suffered death by machine gun quite some decades ago. (Depressingly, Obama, like a true fanatic, seems to want the monarchy of Jordan to be replaced with a more ‘democratic’ system).
Now, when we turn our attention to the Palestinians, a moment’s inspection suggests that their chances of forming a functioning country are rather worse even than the regional average. One possible candidate for power in this future metropolis is Fatah, who resemble nothing so much as a particularly corrupt and incompetent version of a Latin American drug cartel, and the other is Hamas. When Israel apologists talk about Hamas they usually emphasize the quite astonishing levels of hysterical, comic- book anti-Semitism they exhibit on a daily basis, as well as their no- nonsense treatment of their enemies ranging from members of rival gangs to the various victim groups that form a cherished part of the western social fabric. Well, I don’t care about any of that: lots of countries full of people who hate Jews have done more or less OK, as well as those with less than tolerant attitudes to diversity and whatnot. The main point about Hamas is not that they are evil, anyone with a keyboard can make excuses for that, the main point about Hamas is that they are totally mental. Just take a look at any one of the videos of their bizarre, juvenile behaviour. Or ponder a quote like this:
‘For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahadeen and the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy, “We desire death like you desire life”.’
People can discuss all they want about whether those are the words of a partner in peace. I can tell you right away that they are the words of a certifiable nutter who shouldn’t be left alone with a can opener, let alone put in charge of a country.
Of course, liberals and neoconservatives have a passionate belief that countries ruled by psychologically unsound hoodlums are just victims of some mysterious (and apparently persistently recurring) unfortunate set of coincidences that land them, out of nowhere, with unrepresentative bad government. Even if that were true in the general run of things, Palestinians had a chance to actually go and vote for who they wanted to govern them. The results are available for you to see: the stark raving bonkers thug party romped home with 44.5% of the vote, whereas the grimly criminal thug party came a strong second with 41.3%. The closest competition came from the PFLP who merge being crazy thugs with being Marxist-Leninists, apparently unaware of the results of the big experiment in socialization of the means of production by a revolutionary vanguard. The excuse oft given for this lamentable set of results is that people voted for Hamas to get rid of Fatah’s “corruption” (apparently an allusion to its bread- and- butter business of running protection rackets, extortion and the like), but in that case why didn’t they vote for the attractively named ‘National Coalition for Justice and Democracy’ who brought up the rear with a whopping 1,806 votes?
Elections reflect people. If you were to survey, dispassionately, the results of western elections, you would come to the conclusion that their populations are mostly comprised of economic illiterates who prefer to believe the empty promises of career liars than face up to the reality of the mess they have landed themselves in through chronic profligacy and short-sighted greed. And you would be right. If you do the same to the Palestinian ballots you would come to the conclusion that Palestinians are the kind of people who choose to be governed by sociopathic gangsters with a screw loose rather than organize their lives in a civilized bourgeois fashion. What kind of people choose to be governed by unhinged hooligans? Not the kind of people who should be given a state.
Who exactly would the creation of such a state benefit? Not the Palestinians themselves, who would get to experience all the joys of intermittent civil war, grinding poverty, despotic and vindictive government and all the other typical trappings of the post-colonial dream. Not Israel, who will have to live next to a neurotic basket case perpetually exporting refugees and aimless terrorism over the border. Not the rest of the world, who will suffer from yet another chunk of the world’s precious resources being squandered rather than integrated into the global division of labor and, then, being called upon themselves to cough up when the whole thing goes belly up.
Now, I know perfectly well the sort of responses these considerations will raise: Palestinians are just like anyone else, they have a right to a state and it is racist to suggest otherwise. What this amounts to is “I can change reality by declaring that it is not fair”. Alternatively, someone will say that if the Palestinians are in a big mess it is all Israel’s fault. There is some truth in that, and I may one day write an article about the terrible way in which Israel and the rest of the world have systematically incentivized and nurtured those sections of Palestinian society that are most violent, immoral and detached from reality. But, at the end of the day, so what? Is it unfair that Palestinians are not up to the task of governing themselves? I’m not even sure I know what the question means (is it unfair I can’t jump the Grand Canyon?). The situation is what it is.
With all that said, it must be remembered that Palestinians are human beings, created in the image of G-d, and many of them have now died in a war that could easily have been avoided. If I were a truly neutral observer I would not care at all about what is happening in the Gaza strip. If Gazans choose to repeatedly pick fights with people better armed than themselves then I don’t really know what they expect other than to get beaten up. They should count themselves lucky that they did not try their preposterous juvenile stunts on a country like China, America or Russia, that would knock them to smithereens without even thinking about it. However, I am a Jew and Israel is the Jewish state so I care about what it does and it has a duty to avoid death and destruction if at all possible.
That duty could have been very easily discharged simply by not leaving Gaza in 2005. It was a straightforwardly immoral decision, since it represented a direct reward for persistently immoral actions of Palestinians and because it recklessly put human beings in danger in pursuit of empty ethical ideals and a dreamed-of situation that was never remotely likely to occur. The withdrawal has not even saved money (a spin with an F16 doesn’t come cheap, nor does an Iron Dome), and it has not saved lives, on either side.
If the withdrawal was a calamitous strategic and moral error, it was also a decision supported by a clear majority of the Israeli public and at some point they are going to have to stop moaning about how unfair it all is that rockets are falling on them and take responsibility for their bad decisions. Israelis need to learn that they cannot undo their mistake simply by bombing Gaza every three years: nothing Israel can do from the air will ever be able to stop Hamas from firing rockets. It is true that Israel has been doing all it can to avoid civilian casualties and is, in this regard, quite exceptional in the annals of human history. But the fact remains that civilian casualties are inevitable in such an operation and they cannot be justified if the operation itself is basically pointless. Palestinians are not, by and large, good people, but that does not make it acceptable to sacrifice them in a futile endeavor to avoid the inevitable consequences of an Israeli mistake.
Of course, the Gaza withdrawal was only one ignominious episode in a government policy consciously aimed at creating a Palestinian state, which is the real ‘root cause’ of the current imbroglio. It is hard to think of even one good consequence that has emerged from the post-Oslo policy of territorial concessions and empowering of Palestinian criminal syndicates. And yet, even as the bombs were flying, I looked with dismay as Israel supporters loudly bleated about how they were fighting for peace, that this was just another obstacle on the long winding road to a famed final settlement, and, most nauseatingly of all, how they wished they could liberate the poor Palestinians from Hamas, that is to say from themselves. One meme used repeatedly in both Gaza wars has been to emphasize how, at the same time as sending over F16s with bombs, Israel has also been providing the Palestinians with free food, water, electricity, gas and all the other essentials of life; this is intended, I suppose, to emphasize how humane the Israeli military is, which may be true enough; what the people who piously circulate this information don’t seem to realize is how it demonstrates what a completely ridiculous position Israel has got itself into.
Well, now, thanks to over two decades of consistently poor decision –making, Israel is in a corner with exceptionally little room to maneuver. I do not have space left here to exhibit my views on what she can do to get out of this mess, but I can say what the solution is not. The solution is not to withdraw from more territory, to watch as it deteriorates within months to a scene from a surreal post-apocalyptic dystopia and then to go to war when the chaos on their border spills over in the form of hundreds of Qassams, armed with hackneyed clichés about all the sacrifices Israel has made for peace. The first step towards getting out of this hole is, as ever, to stop digging. And if Israelis are to do that they first need to get real and stop seeking to create a Palestinian state, not because it’s not fair, or because it’s not right or because it’s against G-d’s Law or the Balfour Declaration or the San Remo agreement , not even because doing so will mean tearing up hundreds of real actually-existing Jewish towns full of industry and vigor, but simply because it’s a rubbish idea and always was, and anyone who persists in thinking otherwise just hasn’t been paying attention