From theJanuary 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 1)

The Israeli Palestinian Conflict

The Need to Negotiate Again

The Independent (centrist), London, England, November 5, 2001

Tony Blair has been accused of naive optimism. Certainly, the pessimists have it all their own way at the moment, with Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, refusing to talk to President George W. Bush and the killing and counter-killing following each other as night follows day in the contested Holy Land. Yesterday opened to the sound of Israeli rockets hitting Palestinian buildings in the Gaza Strip; hours later a gun attack on a bus in Jerusalem that left one dead [a second child later died—WPR] and others injured.

It was not wrong of Prime Minister Blair, however, to be determined to hope that some good in the Middle East might come out of the awful deaths of thousands of U.S. civilians on Sept. 11. Nor was it wrong of him to attempt to restart a series of dialogues between the players. We do not attribute this view to him, but to those who thought that the destruction of New York’s Twin Towers would shock the United States into reassessing its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were undoubtedly being naive. It is certainly a widely held view in Arab and Muslim countries that the suicide hijackers, however reprehensible their methods, drew strength from the legitimate grievances of the Palestinians against the United States for its steadfast support of the state of Israel. The Palestinians do have legitimate grievances, as Blair has made clear, but equally he tried to bring the Arab leaders he visited to realize that the Israelis have a legitimate case, too.

Because the rantings of Osama bin Laden exploit a legitimate cause, namely that of the Palestinians, we should never allow the “draining of the swamp” of extremist so-called Islamic terrorism to be at the expense of other legitimate causes. We can all understand that Al Qaeda has declared war on the United States, but we should remember that it has declared war on Israel too, and not just on the state of Israel but on all Jews. This is vile anti-Semitism and we should say so. Thus, while this newspaper regards Sharon as a thoroughly negative force, who must bear a substantial responsibility for the current rebellion in the Palestinian territories, it recognizes that for all Israelis the threat from Al Qaeda is real and talk of Palestinian grievances is bound to sound hollow.

The realistic optimist must acknowledge that the shockwaves from Sept. 11 are as likely to have a negative impact on the Middle East peace process as a positive one. But eventually, Sharon, or his successor, will meet Bush or his successor, and eventually a Palestinian leader will emerge capable of securing for most of his people some kind of accommodation which allows them to live in dignity and security.

The attacks of Sept. 11 force us to look at the world afresh and strengthen our resolve to overcome its injustices. And he is right now to do anything to try to push the Middle East peace process forward—however dark the auguries may seem.

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