‘Principled compromise’ could be way forward for Israel
Deaglán de Bréadún
The following article was published in The Irish Times last Monday, 9 July 2012, under the headline: 'Principled compromise' could be way forward for Israel.
Since there has been some difficulty accessing it online, I am reproducing it as a blog.
There is a need for urgency if progress is to be made between Israel
and the Palestinians, writes DEAGLÁN DE BRÉADÚN in Tel Aviv
IT WAS our own John Hume who – among others – pointed out that you make
peace with your enemies, not with your friends. The observation comes
to mind when confronted by the many faces of today’s Israel.
The holy places in Jerusalem can have a profound effect even on
visitors from an Ireland that has rejected religious domination.
Centuries and even millennia from now, these sites are still likely to
be venerated. As it is, Irish people generally don’t visit Israel, they
go to the “Holy Land”.
Tel Aviv, in contrast with Jerusalem, exudes a secular atmosphere.
Forget New York: this is the real city that never sleeps.
Pleasure-seeking youngsters patrol the streets at all hours of the day
But a short distance away, on the border with the Gaza Strip, other
young people in Israeli uniforms are on a different type of patrol. A
major who can’t be more than 30 shows journalists the place where one
of his soldiers was recently shot dead by a sniper.
With his combination of gravity and earnestness, the bright-eyed young
officer is reminiscent of a character from 1960s films such as Exodus
or Cast a Giant Shadow, which paid tribute to the idealists who founded
the state of Israel in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust.
Israel had a “good run” with public opinion up to and including the
Six-Day War of 1967. Since then, opinions have been more mixed and the
Jewish state has to swim against a strong current of international
sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians.
Pressed hard to take sides in the conflict by a radio interviewer in
Ireland some time ago, this correspondent found himself saying: “There
are no good guys in this story.”
Goodness is not the word that comes immediately to mind, for example,
when one sees examples of the rockets fired from Gaza into the nearby
Israeli town of Sderot. They are almost pathetically crude although
real damage, including 10 civilian deaths, has been caused over the
past 12 years.
Foolishness is a better description of these attacks: they were cited
as justification for Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in
more than 100 times as many deaths after it was launched in December
Small shelters have been built in Sderot and, once the warning sounds,
you have 15 seconds before the missile lands. But there is no advance
notice of a mortar attack. I find myself recalling a visit to the
Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza prior to Operation Cast Lead and the
likely fate of many of the young Palestinians we met that day.
The Israelis and the Palestinians need an end to conflict and there may
be some lessons they could draw from the Irish experience. Indeed, the
Oslo Accords preceded our own Good Friday agreement by a few years in
the early 1990s.
The key figure in the secret talks leading to the Oslo deal was
Norway’s foreign minister, Johan Jorgen Holst, who told this reporter
in September 1993, only five months before his early death at the age
of 46, that the parties to the conflict needed to realise that neither
side could solve its problems without the other.
The Irish people are well qualified to understand the feelings of both
the Israelis and Palestinians. It can be argued that the Famine was our
Holocaust, given the scale of loss involved. And among all the EU
member states, Ireland is probably the most sympathetic to the
Palestinian cause, with many politicians and members of the public
finding echoes of our own struggle against British rule.
There is clearly a necessity for Israel to conclude a durable agreement
with the Palestinians in the near future but the division of leadership
between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority makes this a challenging
Although a senior Israeli source sought to assure me last week that the
post-1967 settlements, widely condemned as illegal, would not be a
major obstacle to a peace agreement, it is difficult to take this
An hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv, Israeli soldiers in their late teens
and early 20s are trained in how to operate on the ground against an
unseen enemy. For an Irish visitor, it awakens historical memories of
Tom Barry and the flying columns, which was probably not the effect
intended by the hosts. At the same time, the recently deceased Yitzhak
Shamir, former Israeli prime minister, used the nom de guerre Michael
Collins in his guerrilla days.
It would be heartening to think that those young Israelis in uniform
will never have to go into battle with their Palestinian or Hizbullah
counterparts and that they can go back to parading the streets of Tel
Aviv, sporting the latest fashions. But unless there is a real urgency
about peace, this seems an unlikely prospect.
The political environment in the Middle East is undergoing profound
change. The Arab Spring may contain exciting possibilities for the
countries directly involved but potential dangers for Israel.
In Egypt, for example, what looked at first like a movement for liberal
democracy now seems to be taking a fundamentalist direction. The
disintegration of the Assad regime in Syria may have profound
implications for the stability of Israel’s friendly neighbour, Jordan.
Maybe it is time to consider another John Hume pronouncement: “This is
about principled compromise, not compromised principles.”