A fine balance

A fine balance

At a summit of EU leaders in Brussels last week, Sánchez endorsed the bloc's renewed call for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine

Mark Nayler


Friday, 3 November 2023, 17:49

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As Podemos and Izquierda Unida ministers pledge their unstinting support for Palestinians - without so much as mentioning Hamas - and refer to Israel as a genocidal occupying state that needs to be removed, Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez has adopted a more pragmatic stance. At a summit of EU leaders in Brussels last week, he endorsed the bloc's renewed call for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem as their shared capital. Sánchez also stressed the need for a peace conference between Israel and Hamas, which he said should be held within the next six months.

Now, an admission. The Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7th shocked me into realising that I didn't understand this conflict well enough. After doing some research on Amazon, I ordered a book looking at the history of Israel-Palestine relations from 1917, the year in which the so-called Balfour Declaration committed Britain to "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", up to 2017.

The book is Enemies and Neighbours by the late historian and journalist Ian Black, who spent years reporting from the region as The Guardian's Middle East editor. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting a better understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict, for its scrupulous fairness and the depth of research that underpins Black's taught prose.

I'm only up to the chapter that deals with the Second World War, but the message that's already coming through is that balance is crucial to understanding this situation. That might sound obvious, but the polarised, hate-filled debate that has exploded in the UK, the US and Europe after the Hamas attacks is largely devoid of nuance and fairness.

And that's the problem with Podemos's response, which is typical of the far left in general: it condemns Israel as an evil occupier without trying to understand its legitimacy from the inside, as it were (the corollary of this stance is its unwillingness to admit that Hamas even exists, let alone condemn it). Similarly, the pro-Israeli right can't ignore the suffering and displacement that Palestinians have endured under Israel, nor their historic claims to the same patch of land, which ultimately rest, just like Israel's, on religious texts. 'Religion poisons everything', as Christopher Hitchens so often, and so rightly, said.

Palestine under Ottoman rule, which ended when the British took over in 1917, was not unlike medieval Al-Andalus: Christians, Jews and Arabs lived together in relative harmony. One might even say they realised a three state-solution, although inevitably it was not always without tensions. While the possibility of a return to anything like that level of co-existence might seem to have sunk to zero, it still represents an infinitely more desirable goal than obliteration or displacement of one side by the other.

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