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Thursday 26 July 2007

Driving in the middle,Tony Bayfield

Driving in the middle
Tony Bayfield
June 26, 2007 8:00 AM
An 18th century hasidic rabbi said "the middle of the road is for
horses". Being a moderate is even more unfashionable these days,
probably because moderation can be a thinly disguised cover for lack of
sustained principles and vacuousness.
I am a moderate when it comes to Israel but not, I hope, vacuous. It is
an uncomfortable position with traffic coming at me from both sides. I
am a Zionist and define Zionism as a non-negotiable commitment to the
right of the state of Israel to exist and an equal commitment to the
pursuit of peace as the highest value, to democracy and human rights.
That exposes me to the rage of Israel's critics on the one side and to
the Jewish "realists" and cynics on the other.
But I don't really matter in this regard. Consider the position of a
group called OneVoice. OneVoice is an Israeli-Palestinian joint
initiative. It seeks to give voice to the moderate majority on both
sides and articulate their desire for peace based upon compromise.
OneVoice planned mass, simultaneous rallies in Gaza and Tel Aviv with
thousands upon thousands of people already signed up.
Today, the OneVoice Gaza office is in a state of fear and confusion. The
situation in Gaza is terrible. Friends offered to evacuate the OneVoice
staff. To which they responded: "To all of you, we love Gaza, and
whatever we do, we do because we love it and we can't leave it whatever
the situation is. Thank you for your kind offer to ensure a passage for
our safety. You should be proud because you have such a team in Gaza.
OneVoice will remain and work strongly in Gaza because such an
organisation and other civil society organisations are the last and the
only hope for a better future."
These are the principled moderates we need to support.
Last week I met an Israeli Arab, Mohammad Darawshe. Darawshe works for
The Abraham Fund Initiatives which seeks to improve the conditions and
raise the de facto status of Israel's Arab population, move Israel in
the direction of being a Jewish state and a state for all its citizens
and demonstrate that Jews and Palestinians can live side by side in
cooperation and amity. The Abraham Fund is becoming an umbrella for
dozens of reconciliation initiatives. Darawshe believes that their work
is a lesson for all and not just for those who agree with them. These
are also the non-vacuous moderates that we must support.
Christian Aid is an organisation which has made a habit of upsetting the
mainstream of the Jewish community in Britain. All too often it portrays
the Palestinians as the poor and the oppressed and Israel as the wealthy
and powerful oppressor. It fails to acknowledge the reality of the
Islamist threat and the ruthless determination of Islamist leadership.
That imbalance was present in a recent paper advocating what it called
"viability". Yet Christian Aid was absolutely right in pointing to the
poverty and deprivation of the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, and
indicating that no solution to the situation in the Middle East is
possible whilst such conditions of wretchedness are allowed to persist.
Which is why, for once, I disagree with another "moderate" and veteran
peace activist Gershon Baskin of the Israel Palestine Centre for
Research and Information. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Dr Baskin says:
"Gaza is lost, for the time being. The Palestinians of Gaza, both the
supporters of Hamas and their opposition have to live with this new
reality. Gaza will be detached from the world."
Peace is untenable for as long as conditions in Gaza endure which the
exponents of terrorism can exploit. A humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza
cannot be permitted by Israel, Egypt and the west - morally or as a
matter of realpolitik. The moderate majority cannot be, must not be
Jonathan Freedland, writing in The Guardian last week, rightly sounded
the alarm at what he perceived to be an American and European plan to
take advantage of the present situation and push Israel in the direction
of making concessions to President Abbas and establishing a "good
Palestinian state'"model on the West Bank in contrast to the isolated
and untouchable "bad Palestinian state" model in Gaza. But he went on to
suggest that we should not get too cosy with the moderates. It depends
on who he means are the moderates.
To me the moderates are those who want to see Israel living at peace
with a viable and prosperous Palestinian state on the West Bank and
Gaza. And if that includes President Abbas then so be it. We have to
support all those who believe in two states, a Palestinian State in
which Jews can live safely and an Israel in which the Palestinian
minority will model how minorities can live freely within a majority
culture without seeking to overthrow it.
Unrealistic? It's less unrealistic than thinking that Islamism can be
defeated by allowing Gaza to become even more of a hell than it is now.
It is also less unrealistic than ignoring or downplaying the Islamist
threat which, whatever its origins, is a mortal threat to Israel - and
not just to Israel.
Which brings me to my moderate, middle-of-the-road position.
We abandon the moderates at our peril. We simply cannot ignore the
embattled members of the OneVoice office in Gaza. We must listen
seriously to Mohammad Darawshe and the many organisations in Israel for
which his is an umbrella. We must heed Christian Aid and their
recognition that poverty and deprivation cannot be tolerated.
But equally we simply cannot ignore the traffic on the other side of the
road, the Hamas supporters, the Islamists, those who seriously threaten
many of the values we hold dear. To think we can isolate them, lock them
up with their hostages in Gaza and throw away the key is unacceptable
both morally and practically. One cannot just deal with, talk with one
stream of traffic. One has to deal with both. Even Hamas in Gaza. That's
the true middle-of-the-road position and, however dangerous it is, it's
better than standing on the pavement watching the traffic on both sides
hurtle to oblivion.


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