Magazine article The Spectator

If Jehovah Were an Estate Agent, He Would Have Been Sued Long Ago

Magazine article The Spectator

If Jehovah Were an Estate Agent, He Would Have Been Sued Long Ago

Article excerpt

Monday, everything was quiet on the Golan Heights. Below us, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the little Israeli town of En-Gev looked like a holiday resort, while in the far distance, Mount Herman shimmered through the heat haze. But there was also a relic of a previous yet recent era, where life in Ein Gev would have been very different. Less than a quarter of a mile above the town, there is a former Syrian trench. Until the Israelis overran the Golan in 1967, Ein Gev was not nestling on a tranquil seashore. It was huddled on a hostile front line, and its inhabitants' daily routine was regularly interrupted by sniper fire.

A group of us had come to the Middle East for a New Atlantic Initiative conference. As one of our number, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Howard, was quick to agree, it is easy to understand why the local Israelis are reluctant to see the Golan return to Syrian control. But, as Mr Howard pointed out, that approach is based on an outmoded concept of warfare and an outdated attitude to security. If the Syrians wanted to harass Ein Gev these days, they have no need to get within rifle range. It could be done by shells or rockets fired from miles away. The Israeli occupation of the Golan may make the citizens of Ein Gev feel better, but does it make them safer?

Although much of the conference was dominated by the region's well-rehearsed intransigences, there was one novel feature. Our proceedings took place in Amman and in Tel Aviv. This was the first time that several of the Jordanian and Israeli delegates had had such a sustained exposure to the other side's arguments; the first time, in some cases, when they had visited the other side's country. On both sides, there was plain-spoken courtesy, but also a profound impatience with the sterilities of the ArabIsraeli conflict.

This was most evident among the Jordanians. The Jordanian political and administrative elite, recruited over many years by King Hussein and his brother, Crown Prince Hassan, is hugely impressive, and constantly frustrated. The frustrations arise from the very nature of Jordan: a small and poor country, at the mercy of external forces. Its governing class would be perfectly capable of running an advanced, prosperous, peaceful society; but that does not make it any easier to transform Jordan into one. Inevitably, they see Israeli intransigence as the major obstacle between them and a benign future. They have sincerely accepted the permanence of the state of Israel and are fully prepared to acknowledge Israel's legitimate security concerns. But they do not believe that Israel can base its security on indifference towards its neighbours; they argue that true security must mean peaceful coexistence.

The Israelis are equally frustrated. There have been great changes in Israel over recent years. The old Israeli Labour party ethos is dead. Gone are the days when Israel was ruled by open-necked dons who had become heavily subsidised farmers, determined to create a command economy based on collective values. The Likud governments have transformed the economy. Benjamin Netanyahu's enthusiasm for privatisation out-Thatchers Thatcher, and these days, the Israeli stock exchange is dominated by high-tech companies, while the GDP is at Western European levels and only three per cent of it comes from American aid.

The Israelis also insist that there is a new diplomacy in the Middle East, and they are right, thanks to Turkey. …

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