What is the biggest single mistake in the history of the State of Israel? Well, in a moment of totally unexpected candour Mr Ran Gidor, the Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs at the Israeli embassy in London, volunteered to a meeting at the House of Commons, and I quote, “that the vast majority of Israelis now recognise that the single biggest mistake in our history was the settlements”. Don’t rinse out your ears. You heard him right. He’s not only admitting that Israel has made a mistake, which is rare for a diplomat, but he’s admitting that the entire settlement-building project, officially backed and encouraged by every Israeli government over the last 30 years, has been a mistake. That is SOME mistake. The building of 150 settlements, with all the roads and the necessary services and the houses that accommodate 300,000 people (he’s excluding East Jerusalem from his calculation) were ALL a mistake. So why doesn’t the Israeli government at least stop building any more settlements or stop expanding the existing settlements, I asked at a seminar on “Ways to Reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process” attended by some 200 people in the Commons today. More totally unexpected candour from Mr Gidor. It was because “it’s no secret that many of these settlers are armed to the teeth and taking on 300,000 settlers and removing them forcibly would result in a small-scale civil war”. The removal of just 24 small settlements in Gaza had “very nearly led to a civil war”, he said, and trying to remove over 100 settlements from the West Bank would be far worse. Even trying to stop the expansion of existing settlements – the key point over which the peace talks collapsed – was asking too much. A government would require overwhelming public support to take on the settlers and “no Israeli government feels it has the political clout” to stand up to them.
So are we to believe that the government of Israel, the fourth strongest military power in the world, does not have the arms to stand up to the settlers? Or is it courage that fails them? They apparently have the courage to flout the law (it is illegal under international law for an occupying power to settle its own population on occupied land) and to steal the land (most settlements are built on land expropriated from Palestinian owners using highly discriminatory laws). But they don’t have the courage to enforce the law against their own settlers. Appropriately for a country that boasts the lowest point on earth, Israel now occupies the earth’s moral low ground. We know it’s wrong, we know it’s illegal, but we can’t do anything about it. It is a pathetic excuse. When will the international community wake up to the fact that they cannot transplant a moral scruple or a backbone into the Israeli body politic? They will have to threaten Israel where it hurts – in the pocket.