10 FEBRUARY 2001, Page 9

Israel will never enjoy a secure peace until the Palestinians have a state on the West Bank


d Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God. . . will without fail drive out before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites' (Joshua iii 10).

'His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best efforts to facilitate [this] . . it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the . . rights of existing non-Jewish communities' (Balfour Declaration).

Though Jehovah's clarity of thought is preferable to Arthur Balfour's mealy-minded equivocation, both were equally guilty of geopolitical naivety, and of beguiling the Israelites into a gross underestimate of the task facing them. Within a few chapters of the Joshua Declaration, the children of Israel were up to their armpits in Midianites, where they have more or less remained ever since. The wisest summary of the Palestine question was delivered by Prince Hassan of Jordan: 'We live in a dangerous neighbourhood.' Every time the Israelites tried to relax over their milk and honey, every time the Israelis stop to check how their high-tech stocks are doing, something happens to remind them of the wisdom of those six words.

That is the main reason why Arid l Sharon won the election. Most Israelis insist that they always supported the peace process. But they also believe that Ehud Barak's unilateral concessions have only incited Israel's enemies. So it is now time for a modem equivalent of Ehud, the son of Gera, and Barak, the son of Abinoam. (Judges iii 15ff). Perhaps after Arik Sharon has done some smiting with the edge of the sword, the Palestinians will come back to the table in a more realistic mood. The polls showed that over 50 per cent of Israelis distrust General Sharon. That they still voted for him, albeit faute de mieux — more faute than mieux — illustrates their current mood.

There are those who believe that Mr Sharon will not prove to be a disaster. It is true that he could not be outflanked on the Right, so, if he were serious about making peace, he would be able to sell it to his voters. Those who are determined to remain optimistic draw an analogy with Mr Begin at Camp David. But that does not work.

General Sharon was a superb tank commander. His exploits in the Yom Kippur war rank high in the annals of armoured warfare; he was a finer fighting general than Ehud Barak. Unlike General Barak, however, he never became chief of staff, and his subsequent career vindicated the doubters who denied him that appointment.

Arid l Sharon is no Menachem Begin, who was more of a statesman than was generally recognised, as well as a dominant performer in a strong Knesset. Mr Begin's premiership ended in shadow and shame, but that was largely Mr Sharon's fault. In planning the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Arid l Sharon deceived his prime minister and his cabinet colleagues. Operation Peace in Galilee — the name a cynical attempt to conceal its purposes — will always be notorious for the infamy of Sabra and Chatilla, but even if that had not occurred, the whole venture went so far beyond its authorisation that it could be described as a mutiny. The Israeli commission of inquiry censured Mr Sharon and forced his resignation. That appeared to be the end of his career, but there is a grim irony. By hardening Israeli attitudes and by coarsening Israeli sensibilities, the long, failed war in Lebanon which he provoked helped to create the political conditions which restored him to influence and power.

Few leaders have ever come to office with higher hopes and fairer winds than Ehud Barak enjoyed. His record, alas, is further evidence that generals rarely make good politicians. It seems unlikely that Mr Sharon will rescue the generals' political reputation.

But even if he were willing to confound every expectation, Mr Sharon would face almost insuperable obstacles. The task of making a deal with the Palestinians is far harder than the one which Mr Begin confronted at Camp David. Yet the moral and strategic imperatives are equally obvious.

Those who meddle in the affairs of the Muddle East are usually asked to proclaim their own allegiance: pro-Israeli or proArab? In my case, there is an easy answer: both. My master in these matters, Julian Amery, always found it easy to make contacts and staunch friendships on both sides. It was to his house in Eaton Square that King Hussein and General Dayan came in secret, a couple of years after the 1967 war, for the first diplomatic contact between their two countries since that conflict.

have never understood how any neutral can be anti-Israeli; Israel's achievements are as moving as they are impressive. But this

does not mean that Israel is always the best judge of its own security. The military historian Richard Holmes has coined a phrase which is indispensable in understanding modern warfare: species pseudo-differentiation. Men find it easier to kill their enemies if they regard them as a lesser species: Huns, Fuzzy-Wuzzies, Gooks, et al. This does not happen just in war; it is endemic in politicoethnic conflicts, and Israel is no exception.

Most Israelis implicitly regard Palestinians as beings of a lesser dispensation, who should acquiesce in a lesser destiny. It is of course true that many Palestinians believe that the only destiny to which Israelis are entitled would involve flight into exile. It is also true that anyone contemplating Yasser Arafat has to remind himself that Palestinians do have dignified leaders and a serious cause. As Abba Eban put it, Mr Arafat never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. But none of this excuses Israeli negligence. Israel will never enjoy a secure peace until the Palestinians have a state on the West Bank. This cannot be a mere constellation of cantons; on maps it must look like a national entity.

It would be absurd to claim that a Palestinian state would guarantee peace. It could easily degenerate into irredentism, especially if the squalor of Arafatdom were perpetuated. But if the Palestinians had their own state, enough of their energies might be directed into arrangements for schools and a good water supply, and away from fantasies about returning to Israel. There would still be terrorism; Hamas would not disappear; Israelis would still occasionally be murdered by Palestinian militants. But there would be a chance that the neighbourhood would gradually become a little less dangerous.

Under present circumstances, there is no such chance. They are chronically terrorgenic. The future danger to Israel does not lie in a tank thrust across the 12 miles between the West Bank and the Mediterranean. It comes from terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. A Palestinian state would not eliminate that threat, but it would reduce the potential supply of recruits to terrorism. Israel cannot afford to let its neighbours fester in dreams and violence; all routes to Israel's well-being lie through Palestinian well-being. The only hope is that enough Israelis will come to recognise this before it is too late. For the moment. however, 'the children of Israel [have] committed a trespass in the accursed thing'.