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Royal Grammar School Guildford Debates the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Yesterday, the staff of the Royal Grammar School in Guildford, invited John Levy of Friends of Israel Educational Foundation and I to to have a debate on Israel and Palestine before the sixth form students.

It was a good natured affair and we agreed in large measure, for example, on the need for a negotiated and diplomatic settlement based on the Two State solution, repudiating the use of violence and terrorism against civilians. I emphasized that there were at least two sides to this issue and that I was not expecting students to side with one of us but rather hear both perspectives, hold them together and be ready for their homework.

John majored on the relative size of Israel compared to its Arab neighbours, its greater historic claim to the land, the belligerent nature of the Palestinian response to the peace process, the frequent terrorist attacks against Israelis, the refusal of Hamas to recognise the existence of Israel and the Palestinian refusal to accept the ‘generous offer’ under Barak .

I focussed on the strategy of successive Israeli governments to militarily occupy, expel Palestinians and then colonize the West Bank, Golan and Gaza, in breach of international law. I explained the strategy involved land seizure, house demolitions, settlement building, the construction of bipass roads for settlers and roadblocks for the Palestinians, anbd the construction of the separation barrier – Ha’hafrada in Hebrew – meaning ‘separate’ or ‘apart’ as in apartheid. I dwelt on the response of the international community to the illegal occupation of Palestine, human rights abuses, UN Resolutions, the intention of the Roadmap Principles and Annapolis Agreement.

I outlined what appear to be the three options for the way forward.

Like a child with his hand stuck in a sweet jar, Israel wants three but can only have two.

Option 1: The One State Solution
Israel can annexe the Occupied Territories and give all Palestinians equal rights with Jewish Israelis but it would have to amend its constitution and cease being a Zionist State (its important to distinguish between Judaism which is a religion and Zionism which is a political system – the two are not synonymous). That is not going to happen in the short term but its possible in the long term that by mutual agreement some kind of ‘federation’ may emerge between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, for example, of the kind that has occured in the European Community.

Option 2: The Two State Solution
Israel can remain a Zionist State and a democracy but to enjoy both it must give up the aspirations of Eretz Israel – the ‘greater’ Israel and withdraw from the Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank to the internationally recognised borders (The 1949 Armistice line, aka the green Line assumed in UN Resolution 242). This is the position favoured by the international community as expressed in the Roadmap for Peace, Annapolis Agreement and latest Quartet Statement and UN Resolution 1850.

Option 3: The No State Solution
Israel can remain a Zionist state and annexe and settle more land in the Occupied Territories and Golan. To do so, however, it must also continue to control the lives of Palestinians by military force. This is the option favoured by many within Netanyahu‘s Likud party, who have a good chance of winning the elections in February (Netanyahu, for example opposed the withdrawal from Gaza). Livni, his main opponent has also indicated that she believes the national aspirations of Israeli Arabs lies in a Palestinian homeland, not Israel. But accepting or justifying the present status quo is incompatable with being a Western-styled democracy, something Jimmy Carter has warned of.

There followed a lively Q&A time with the students asking some penetrating questions. I concluded by explaining the homework – to resolve the conflict as their parents generation (and mine) had failed to – and help both Israelis and Palestinians work toward the implementation of the Roadmap for Peace.