Perfect for the White House, a disaster for the Middle East

It is quite obvious that Benjamin Netanyahu is never going to provide courageous leadership
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The Independent Culture
BRITAIN'S ILL JUDGED and lethal support for Bill Clinton's reckless gamble against Iraq has left us isolated from our European partners and once again an object of contempt and derision throughout the rest of the world. In private conversation it is hard to find any MP who does not believe that the real purpose of the bombing of Iraq was to buy Clinton time and support in his struggle against impeachment. The fact that there is no UN resolution authorising these attacks would, in a world based on justice, leave Bill Clinton exposed to prosecution for war crimes.

Once again the unedifying spectacle of Britain running along behind America, yapping like a demented poodle, has shown the complete absence of any long-term strategic thinking in the Foreign Office about Britain's position in the world. Britain's willingness to go along with Clinton's White House, whether it is by supporting US-inspired sanctions against Libya, Iran and Pakistan, or by bombing Sudan and Afghanistan, leaves us open to the accusation from the Muslim world that we support an anti-Islam policy.

The coincidence of Clinton's military escapades with the fall of the Israeli government has once again served to highlight Anglo-American hypocrisy towards the Middle East. Innocent Iraqi civilians are bombed to death because Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, whereas Israel, which has amassed 200 nuclear weapons, in contravention of all international law, remains the largest beneficiary of American support.

Indeed, for those who have studied the history of the Middle East, there are few more disgraceful episodes than the complicity of President Johnson's White House in turning a blind eye to the early stages of Israel's nuclear weapons programme.

While the Iraqi people find death raining down on them at regular intervals because they are unfortunate enough to live under a dictator, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been allowed to rat with impunity on one provision after another of the Oslo agreement. He has even started to betray the agreement he personally reached with Yasser Arafat at the Wye peace conference earlier this year. American politicians at all levels continue to prop up this ghastly Israeli government out of fear of the "pro-Israel" lobby on Capitol Hill.

For those of us who hope to see a permanent and lasting peace that allows both Jews and Arabs to look forward to dying in their beds of old age, rather than being blown apart by suicide bombers or the Israeli air force, we have to recognise that what Israel needs is blunt and honest advice rather than double standards and knee-jerk support for the rabid ultra- nationalism of the Likud party.

When I watched the historic handshake of Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn, I thought that Arafat had most probably signed his own death warrant. Never in my wildest nightmare did it occur to me that it was Yitzhak Rabin who would pay with his life because he was prepared to argue for peace. Although it is easy to dismiss Rabin's assassin as just one of a small handful of murderous fanatics, Netanyahu cannot escape sharing the blame for what happened. The violence of Netanyahu's language in denouncing the Oslo accords as treachery and betrayal helped create the climate of opinion in which the unbalanced mind of the assassin finds reassurance that his act of murder is justified.

Those of us who have travelled through Israel and have been captivated by the charm and humanity of so many ordinary Israelis have found it difficult to come to terms with the growing power and influence of the small, fanatical minority who seem increasingly to dominate Israeli politics. The system of pure proportional representation in Israeli elections allows a party that is incapable of getting more than 1 per cent of the vote, nevertheless to hold the balance of power.

The fact that Israel is split almost equally between hawks and doves has handed power to the small religious parties, which have then skilfully exploited their position to impose a theocratic state on the reluctant mass of liberal and reform-minded Israelis.

The most bizarre example of the power of the ultra-orthodox has been their attempt, by relocating populations, to become an absolute majority inside the city of Jerusalem. As their fundamentalist hold has tightened, liberal and reform-minded citizens have left the city to move to more tolerant areas.

What is required in these circumstances is a leader with the courage of Rabin - someone prepared to risk their own political career and perhaps even their life by standing up to the fundamentalists and reaching out beyond them to assemble a clear majority for a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. That settlement must be based on the rapid creation of full Palestinian self-rule throughout the West Bank and Gaza, so that the leadership can isolate those who will continue to exploit the genuine political grievances of the Palestinians until a final peace settlement gives both Arab and Jew a stake in building a peaceful region.

The key to long-term peace lies in crude old economics. Fifty years ago no one would have believed it possible that France and Germany, having fought three wars in under a century, could achieve their present status. What the founders of the new Europe recognised was that it was possible to bind the French and German economies. They gave the citizens of both countries a personal stake in peaceful co-development. This is the way forward for Arab and Israeli alike.

It is not enough merely to create some Palestinian self-governing enclave. The best guarantee of peace will be when just a fraction of the wealth that Israel spends on its military arm is diverted towards a major programme of economic reconstruction throughout the area. Then it would be possible to find permanent settlements and employment for the hundreds and thousands of Palestinians who still rot in refugee camps and provide Hamas with their most fertilerecruiting-ground.

It is quite obvious that Benjamin Netanyahu is never going to provide such courageous leadership. His American style is all too clear in the way he operates politically. Short-term, manipulative, divisive, everything subordinated to securing his own position - he would be a natural in the White House. Unfortunately, in the Middle East these qualities are a recipe for the death and destruction of Arab and Jew alike.

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