AN OPEN LETTER TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND TONY BLAIR
Dear President Bush and Prime Minister Blair,
The nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea becomes ever more imminent, genocide goes unchecked in the Sudan, and the war against Islamic militancy rages across the globe. In these circumstances to suggest that the Israel-Palestine conflict is the most pressing issue of the day, and its solution (by way of creating a Palestinian State) the highest of all priorities to be addressed, is - if you will forgive my presumption in saying so - a preposterous proposition.
At this critical stage, the time has come for an honest and realistic assessment of the problems facing the democratic nations of the world.
For your own sakes as well as for ours free yourself from the shackles of conventional thinking. The Arabists of the State Department and the Foreign Office live in a bygone era, and old Europe is cynical and corrupt. Don’t heed their advice. You will neither gain Europe’s favour nor buy off the hostility of international Islamic militants (and the Arab states that openly or tacitly support them) by sacrificing Israel on the altar of appeasement. Nor will you be doing the Palestinians a favour by prematurely thrusting the forms of statehood upon a people in no way ready for its democratic substance. Abandon the shibboleth that somehow a Palestinian State at this time will contribute to a more stable and democratic Middle East, or a safer world.
Israel is a democratic state anxious to live in peace and harmony with its neighbours. We are prepared for peace, but not for suicide. The vision of two states living side-by-side in peace depends upon the establishment of a Palestinian leadership prepared to replace a despotic and corrupt oligarchy with true democracy, one willing to live in peace, capable of controlling the terrorists in its midst, one determined to convince its people that the Jewish State of Israel is legitimate and here to stay. There is no prospect of such a leadership emerging in the immediate future, and re-educating the Palestinian people for peace and amity, after decades of incitement to hate and violence, is the task of at least a generation. Therefore, a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict is, for this generation at least, not a realistic vision but an illusion, a pipe-dream.
The departure of Arafat does not alter this conclusion, at least not in the foreseeable future. Putting one’s faith in veteran Arafat loyalists like Abu Mazen and Abu Ala, in ruthless strong-men like Mohammed Dahlan or the convicted multiple-murderer Marwan Barghouti, is like entrusting post-Hitler Germany to Goering or Eichman. There may be some moderates in Palestine, but there is no moderate leadership waiting or able to take over. Transition from despotism to democracy is not an instant process. Post-war Germany and Japan, after the elimination of the entire tainted leadership, and under the tutelage and supervision of the Allied Forces, were guided and educated towards responsible democracy over a long period. The transition in the Soviet Union from Stalin to perestroika and glasnost took decades. For both Israel and the Palestinians – and eventually for the free world - ‘Statehood Now’ will prove to be as dangerous and costly a myth as ‘Peace Now’ has been!
. Premature statehood is not the solution of the Middle East conflict, but the creation of a new problem of infinitely more perilous dimensions.
The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, before a generation arose that was fit to enter the Promised Land. The Jews of Palestine developed the instruments of democratic governance for thirty years under the Mandate, before the Zionist enterprise matured and evolved into the State of Israel. The Palestinians need at least as long a period of tutelage and maturation before the concept of a democratic viable and independent Palestinian State can become a reality. To dream of a state may be a starting point, but to achieve statehood demands a learning process, a process of self-assessment and re-education, a willingness to take moral and practical responsibility, a transformation from violence to constructive work, and a long period of reconciliation, both internal and external.
Independence must be deserved, prepared for, earned.
Too much time and energy has been wasted, and too much blood has been spilt, in the fruitless pursuit of a viable two-state solution. This fixation has been at the cost of searching for more creative and realistic alternatives. For all our sakes turn your thoughts and efforts in new and more constructive directions. If you will it, they are there to be found.
Professor Gilbert Herbert, Haifa, 7 November 2004