The Solution to this Filthy War

Ariel Sharon’s “peace” plan presented to President Bush in Washington last night–get rid of Arafat, devise a more obedient Palestinian Authority and keep building settlements for Jews and Jews only on Palestinian land–is fantasy.

That the Americans should smooth his way by claiming that Arafat’s need to reform his authority is more important than a halt to settlement-building–the gormless contribution of Condoleezza Rice, the US National Security Adviser, to this sterile debate–shows just how out of touch the Bush administration is.

Sharon’s hopeless attempts to suppress a vicious anti-colonial war are accompanied by all the usual psychological weapons: dishonest attempts to label any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, fraudulent assertions that the Israeli army behaves with restraint, mass rallies and continued attempts to portray Palestinians as beast-like, suicidal animals.

Sharon himself has now taken to blaming not just Arafat and his corrupt henchmen for the wicked suicide bombing of Israeli civilians. He now blames the Palestinians as a people. Only last month, in the Knesset, he was referring to “the murderous insanity that has taken hold of our Palestinian neighbours”. If Palestinians as a people are now possessed of “murderous insanity”, Mr Sharon is not going to make peace with them.

And if the Palestinians have to go on watching the Jewish settlements surrounding them on their land, they are not going to make peace with Israel. And contrary to song, myth and legend, the Israeli army has been behaving more like a militia than a disciplined military force. The reports of mass looting by Israeli troops in Ramallah, especially of jewellery and cash, have reached epic proportions. Israel may publicly claim that this is Palestinian propaganda, but the Israeli army’s high command knows the stories are true–one officer referred to it as “the wide-scale, ugly phenomenon of vandalism”.

Anyone who doubts this has only to read Amira Haas’s shocking report in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz earlier this week, in which she catalogues a month-long Israeli army orgy of destruction at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Ramallah. The soldiers based there wrecked and stole masses of computers, furniture, television sets, children’s paintings and left much of the building–including office drawers–soiled with excrement and urine.

The question has to be asked: is this army any more capable of defending Israel than the Palestinians are capable of defending themselves? A seminar at the Steinmetz Peace Research institute in Tel Aviv threw up some fascinating data last month. Over 40 per cent of Israel’s Jewish population, the institute found, said they were prepared to have international intervention in the conflict. More astonishingly, 35 per cent of interviewees said that intervention could involve foreign troops who would physically separate Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In other words, many Israelis would allow foreign armies to protect them from Palestinian suicide bombers. And the Palestinians, be sure, would be more than happy to have foreign armies on their soil; they have been asking for just that for decades. Mr Sharon or any Likud successor would object.

But it is their own insane policy of settlement-building that has brought about such misery for Israelis. For a real border separating “Palestine” from the sovereign state of Israel would afford Israelis much greater security. But Mr Sharon can’t erect such a fence because it would cut Israel off from the illegal settlements that it has been building for 35 years on Palestinian land.

Outside the Middle East, however, there is growing impatience with this wretched war. Europeans are becoming weary of this cynical, ruthless conflict, tired of being called anti-Semites when they object to Israel’s occupation and equally sick of Arafat’s corruption and nepotism and his inability to prevent Palestinian suiciders from killing children. No matter how many rallies in their favour–or how much inane support from the likes of Iain Duncan Smith–Israelis themselves are well aware how isolated they have become.

And despite the roar of the old pro-Israeli pundits on the US east coast and Israel’s lobbying power over Congress, Americans are infuriated by the gutless, supine Middle East policies of their own government. A war that is affecting oil prices and the world economy, that is turning Muslims into enemies of Europe and Westerners into enemies of Islam, that involves occupation and colonial rule, cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

So I’ll make a rash, fearful prediction. After Bosnia and Kosovo and East Timor, we have grown tired of regional wars. And I think that, in time, we will close down the Middle East war. With Russian and EU and UN support, there will, eventually, be American and Nato troops in Jerusalem. There will be a Western protection force in the West Bank and Gaza–and in Israel. The Israeli and Palestinian armies will have to return to barracks. Jerusalem will be an international city. The Palestinians will have security. So will the Israelis.

Yes, it will be a form of international colonialism. Yes, it will mean foreign occupation for both sides. But it will put an end to this filthy war.

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared.