Once again, the dust has settled on the rubble and what lies beneath it. Once again, Ministers have convened from around the world to offer what reconstruction help their governments can. Once again, there are no winners.
Israel’s implacable – and amply demonstrated – policy foundation stone is clear: to crush and survive any existential threat from anywhere, never to allow Jewish people to enter again the mouth of hell. Increasingly, this determination trumps all criticism, all pressures.
Over years, Israel has systematically, with diligent lobbying and media penetration, engineered virtually blanket official US support for its huge defence capacity and its political postures. In the UN Security Council, Israel has a unique, de facto proxy veto, through the US veto, hanging over what it perceives as unpalatable and complicating international intrusion on the conflict. This foundation stone has proved to be impervious to UN, EU, quartet and other demands for proportionality of force, and for a lasting ceasefire to enable engagement, once again, in joined-up political movement toward the regional solution, a solution that is there and available to the parties on the ground if they will only agree to it.
Israel, with US support, has massive conventional firepower backed by its own nuclear and – unacknowledged but fingertip ready – chemical and biological weapons capacity. It also has the currently much-vaunted Iron Dome system in place to deal with the majority of primitive but dangerous rocket attacks from Hamas.
But does this guarantee true safety? There can be little if any doubt that Israeli defence planners and the leaders they brief must be very well aware that all their firepower, together with the defensive Iron Dome – metaphorically not unlike the Iron Curtain, which in some ways it increasingly resembles – might nevertheless prove to be permeable by far more deadly weapons in the hands of sophisticated, patient, implacable enemies.
It took al-Qaeda 10 years of meticulously planning to achieve 9/11. Such patient skills are essential, most certainly now in the new age of asymmetrical warfare.
Despite the incremental, solid work of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, supported by most of the world’s states, with notable exceptions, including Israel, it is hardly possible that defence policy planners in Israel can with any real confidence rule out future terrorist successes of a different, less conventional nature, on another such, or greater, massive scale.
It is a truism that Israel is winning the battles but losing the war. But there is no need for war, and all that war means, including in the latest Gaza case, is the utterly disproportionate level of civilian casualties, including so many children written off as collateral damage. By putting a veto on the long-available solution scenario, Israel may be eroding steadily not only its international standing and credibility – both values of apparently diminishing concern to it – but also its own most fundamental, existential foundation stone – the security of its people.
The only realistic solution is also a truism urged for years now by the great majority of the world community of concerned states, and asserted as best it can by the UN system, the EU, the quartet and other significant peace-seeking players. This solution is the two-state system with Israel and Palestine existing peacefully within recognised, secure borders, side by side. There is simply no realistic alternative.
But behind the lurid scenario that has yet again unfolded before us, there continues to develop in the background perhaps the greatest threat to real and lasting peace. The Israeli settlements policy – and it is nothing less than a deliberate, steadily unrolling policy – is destroying systematically the very doability of that one remaining solution scenario. This Israeli official policy-rooted creep across the West Bank is eroding every day the vital cartography and viability of the nascent Palestine state on which the final deal, and Israel’s security, depend.
The Jerusalem – including East Jerusalem – component of this problem will require, and will receive, special and appropriately delicate attention. But, above all, right now, it is an absolute priority that this West Bank settlements policy be stopped and reversed. An Israeli and a Palestinian statesman would see this, but where are these statesmen?
For now the US has of course a central, pivotal role to play, including on Israel’s unquestionable right to defend itself.
But that role continues to extend also over and beyond a virtual, if increasingly weary, tolerance of the wilfully blinkered and self-harming Israeli aversion to the real overall solution agenda. The persistently hardening Israeli agenda includes determined restraint on what it regards as complicating intrusion by international players including the UN system and the Security Council at its heart; the quartet framework of the UN, the EU, Russia and the US; the EU beyond its quartet role; and many other completely bipartisan states with the credentials, the capacity and the political will to contribute helpfully to the single available political solution and formula for lasting peace.
Political will is there to be harnessed. It represents not only the best, but the only path to peace for all who care enough about it, including, essentially, in Israel.
Richard Ryan was Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York from 1998 to 2005, and on the UN Security Council during 2001-2002