Israelis defiant as peace crumbles

Israel's beleaguered right-wing government ducked yesterday and let the waves of Arab League indignation wash over its bruised and battered head.

Officials dismissed the threat to freeze normalisation of relations under the peace process as another stage in a mounting propaganda campaign against the decision to build 6,500 Jewish homes on Har Homa in Arab East Jerusalem.

They were disturbed by it, but not broken. At worst, Israel would lose diplomatically. "We benefit," a government spokes-man, David Bar-Illan, told The Independent, "because we want to normalise relations with the Arab world. From the economic point of view, it wouldn't make any substantial difference to us."

The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the Arab foreign ministers' resolution as "a step backward from peace". He predicted that any attempt to revive the economic boycott of Israel would fail. "We're a strong country with a strong economy," he said. "It didn't work before. It won't work now."

He rejected any idea of suspending construction on the Har Homa site. His government was determined to continue building in Jerusalem for both Jews and Arabs - a public relations line which has singularly failed to convince world opinion since the Cabinet took its decision a month ago.

Israel, Mr Netanyahu insisted, wanted to achieve peace, but that had to mean an end to threats and violence. "We're not going to redivide Jerusalem on that basis, and we're certainly not going to accept a concept of peace that is based on continual threat and blackmail."

The Labour opposition took a less complacent view of the Cairo offensive. Ehud Barak, the frontrunner to succeed Shimon Peres as party leader, called on Mr Netanyahu to stop the dangerous escalation and resume normal contacts with leaders of the Arab world.

"It is very disturbing," Mr Barak said, "the way we are isolating ourselves with this policy of destroying the mutual confidence so intricately nurtured by the late Yitzhak Rabin and by Shimon Peres."

The Clinton administration's Middle East peace envoy, Dennis Ross, left empty-handed last week, but there are reports that the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, is planning to bring a new compromise formula on her first official visit to the region.

That visit promises to be more and more difficult, as each day passes. The Arab League's recommendation to freeze Arab-Israeli relations and reimpose a trade boycott may sound like familiar rhetoric, but it is a further symbol of the ever-quickening decay of the American-Israeli "peace process". No one could have imagined, even a year ago, that Arab foreign ministers would be voting to return to the Middle East cold war - and Washington's continuing refusal to understand the depth of betrayal now felt by Arab kings and dictators will only allow the crisis in the region to deteriorate at a faster rate.

Every day brings a further crack in the crumbling edifice of the "peace process" in which the world was once asked to believe and to invest millions of dollars. Farouk al-Sharaa, the Syrian foreign minister, insisted that the Arab League's decision was intended to persuade Israeli public opinion to make Mr Netanyahu reconsider his decision to build a new Jewish settlement on occupied land; in truth, only America can do that - and two US vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions condemning the settlement prove this is a vain hope.

What, in any case, is a cold peace with the Arabs worth to Israel? In Egypt, for example, ElAl cannot even fly into Cairo with its name on aircraft. Tour-ism between Israel and Egypt has virtually collapsed. In Jordan, King Hussein's horror at the murder by a Jordanian soldier of seven Israeli schoolchildren has not been matched by his people. The Jordanian Bar Association has been overwhelmed with lawyers offering to defend the soldier responsible for the slaughter. The king has since replaced his Prime Minister with the man who signed the peace treaty with Israel, further isolating himself from the Palestinian population.

The Arab League's recommendation to break off multilateral talks with Israel on water, economic cooperation, refugees, the environment and disarmament further destroys one of the dwindling American hopes of a continued "peace process". The original "land-for-peace" deal promised the Arabs before the 1991 Madrid summit in a series of letters from then Secretary of State James Baker - which the European Union wholeheartedly supported - has effectively been torn up. Very dark days, therefore, appear to lie ahead.

Europe can save peace, page 14

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links