Leading article: Israel's search for security

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The Independent Online
WHATEVER the ultimate fate of the Northern Ireland peace process may be, Stormont Castle is not, of course, the only place in the world where a "peace process" has been going on for decades. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel we see the hardest lesson of all - that it can be the years after a "settlement" that are the most dangerous. As with Ireland, history provides a key to understanding the ready diet of grievances, suspicions and a national obsession with security. It also shows us how the imperatives of security can change.

It is a little hard to recall that, a few months after the proclamation of the State of Israel in 1948, Winston Churchill told the House of Commons that this event was "one of the most hopeful and encouraging adventures of the 20th century". Indeed he went on to warn the hasty historians of tomorrow: "The coming into being of a Jewish State in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years."

Journalists are notoriously short-termist but it is possible even with such a short vantage point as a mere half-century to offer a tentative judgement on the state of the State of Israel. In brief, it is uncertain as to how much hope and encouragement for peace could be derived from the present leadership of Israel.

In fact, the first 50 years of Israel's history might be best described as a "war process". Israel was a nation born out of conflict and hatreds stretching back in a truly Churchillian timescale. It certainly gained a huge momentum because of the hostility the Jewish diaspora encountered almost wherever it went. This varied from time to time and from society to society, from mild snobbishness to the kind of violent state-sponsored pogroms that culminated in the Holocaust. But whilst these events resulted in waves of frightened people emigrating to Palestine (and elsewhere) it needed the guarantee of American support and the successful war of self-determination to found the nation.

Even then Israel was not secure, or at least did not feel secure, and much of her story has been a search for security. It has been a struggle between hawks and doves.

When Israel found herself in major armed conflicts with all of her neighbours in each of her five decades of existence one could understand the hawkish outlook. The wars have contributed to the Israeli perception that she is "vulnerable", "threatened" by hostile neighbours. She may, at various times, have been right. Certainly no-one could mistake the anti-Israeli rhetoric of some of her enemies who wanted the state driven into the sea. Israel's story has been one where leaders like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir have trusted no-one and placed their faith in force. This tradition has been shamelessly exploited by the present Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. As we come to the 50th anniversary, Israel should in fact recognise the scale of her own achievements and that the time for hawkishness has passed.

The state is no longer seriously threatened by external enemies. Her alliance with the United States has been tested time and time again. She has concluded peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. She has survived each of her armed conflicts and emerged strengthened. There are new threats to the stability of Israel, but more and more of these are "home grown", like the extremist Israeli gunman who murdered Yitzhak Rabin. Or they emerge from Israeli policy, like the West Bank settlements. The responses of the past are no longer appropriate and do not, in fact, serve Israel's best security interests, let alone justice or morality. Israel need not fear ending the oppression of the Palestinian people and the creation of a fully independent Palestinian state.

The Israeli anthem for the 50th anniversary runs: "Together in pride / Together in hope". As in Northern Ireland, we hope that the Israelis will soon work to add "Together in peace".