Gaza, the Israeli blockade and international law

It would be madness to venture a personal view on the latest Israel-Gaza conflict unless from under a double-thickness cycle helmet and from deep inside a suit of armour, but a cool, clear statement of the relevant provisions of international law can perhaps be recommended in reasonable safety:  it’s at

In the words of Norman Geras (to whom a profound hat-tip), it’s a piece–

by Ed Morgan, professor of international law at the University of Toronto, [who] looks at the incident in the light of the Law of the Sea and in opposition to what he calls ‘politicized interpretation’.

Comment on it really is superfluous, cliché and all.

I should stress that my passing on a useful tip by Norm Geras has nothing at all to do with the publication today on his blog of the 350th in his long-standing and fiendishly addictive ‘profiles’ of fellow-bloggers.  No. 350 is at —

Fame at last!


10 Responses

  1. According to a lawyer writing in El País, Israel is not guilty of piracy, as some people have claimed, because piracy must be for personal reasons. However, it has clearly violated the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts (SUA) Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

    Article 6.1 gives Turkey absolute jurisdiction as the ships had Turkish flags, and other countries have optional jurisdiction under 6.2.

    Apart from that, I mention the role of Turkey and the ‘neo-Ottoman diplomacy’ that it seems to be deploying around the Black Sea and the Balkans, and also in the Middle East. Turkey flagged the ships and the majority of people aboard them were Turkish. Turkey has signed deals with Syria and Iraq and has recently aligned itself with Iran to the discomfiture of the USA. In this context, a breach with Israel is inevitable and what better way to provoke it than a row over the Palestinians?

    The Middle East run by Turkey and Iran? If Israel continues to demonstrate this level of stupidity, that is what we will have.

    What Israel did was worse than a crime, it was a mistake — as was said of the execution of the Duc d’Enghien.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Peter. I agree with much of what you say, although if what Israel did was, as you say, a mistake and an act of great stupidity, you presumably have in mind a preferable alternative course of action that would have achieved the same result. It’s pretty clear that this episode has been manufactured by Turkey’s new Islamic (i.e. anti-secular) government as part of its campaign for the acceptance of Turkey into the Islamic international community. The Turkish and some other participants in the venture were evidently more interested in provoking an incident that would discredit Israel than in delivering supplies to Gaza, and in this they seem to have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

    I’m not entirely convinced that Israel’s descent on and occupation of the ship was an unlawful act, given that Israel’s blockade of Gaza seems to be within its rights as a belligerent: the national flag or country of registration of the ship seems doubtfully relevant to that. The article in El País which you cite seems to rely on the assertion that there is no state of war between Israel and Gaza under Hamas, such as would permit a blockade: my impression is that other international law specialists, as well as common-sense, would dispute that. Whether the action of the Israeli commandos in shooting dead a number of the so-called activists was disproportionate to the threat they posed will be known only, if at all, when we get the report of a reasonably impartial inquiry; meanwhile the Israelis seem to have produced already videos showing the activists attacking the Israeli commandos extremely violently.

    Those who resort instantly to abuse of Israel and accusations of Israeli piracy, genocide, over-reaction, etc., might also reflect on the role of Hamas with its commitment to the eradication of Israel and its constant rocketing of Israeli towns and villages from Gaza soil. Israel’s determination to prevent Iran or Syria supplying Hamas with longer-range rockets capable of reaching all parts of Israel — the principal purpose of the blockade — doesn’t strike me as either unreasonable, or disproportionate to the threat, or inherently aggressive. I can’t immediately think of what else the Israelis can do or could have done. As Christopher Caldwell says in a characteristically cogent article in today’s Financial Times, “Israel had no other choice”.

    I see no reason to think that shrill partisan condemnation of Israel from Britain is likely to contribute in the smallest degree to a peaceful solution of this long-lasting problem. As Matthew Parris astutely observed in a recent television programme, it’s actually nothing to do with us, a truth which post-imperial Brits are far too often reluctant to recognise when faced with conflict in other parts of the world to whose resolution Britain has nothing to contribute. (No doubt that comment will set off a good deal of all-too-familiar abuse!)
    Yesterday at 11:22 ·

  2. amk says:

    Brian, would you say that Hamas has the legal right to fire on the Israeli military and take prisoners of war (in compliance with the Geneva conventions)?
    It’d be a funny kind of “armed conflict” if only one side is allowed to do any shooting.
    The Economist has a partial list of prohibited items in the blockade.

    Brian writes: I doubt if it’s helpful to talk about either Hamas or Israel having the “legal right” to kill the other side’s soldiers or civilians. I don’t know of any provision of international law that confers such a ‘right’. Surely the question is whether either side does act in this way — to which the answer must be Yes, in which case there seems to exist a state of armed conflict between the two of them and this confers certain ‘rights’ and even more ‘obligations’. There is also of course the question of one side’s “inherent right of self-defence” against armed attack from outside.

    Isn’t there also a UN-sponsored arms embargo forbidding the supply of arms to Hamas (or to Gaza)? If so, that would also seem relevant to the question of the legality or lack of it of the Israeli-imposed blockade, which of course is only partial.

    And there’s also the position of Egypt to consider. Egypt, as I understand it, also enforces the blockade of Gaza, claiming the right to monitor and control the supply of imports into Gaza from Egypt, presumably because Egypt shares Israel’s fears of the possible consequences of Iran supplying Hamas with long-range rockets. And Egypt doesn’t have the justification claimed by Israel of having been subjected over a long period to attack from missiles fired from Gaza. However, Egypt is not a target for the constant stream of international abuse and condemnation daily visited on Israel. Is the sole reason for this that Egypt, not having been attacked by Hamas, has had no cause to retaliate in the way Israel has done? Or is there a special kind of venom directed by otherwise moderate, liberal people against Israel?

  3. Oliver Miles says:

    amk makes an interesting point which has wider application. It seems to be standard these days for coroners to decide that soldiers killed in war are victims of “unlawful killing”, which carries a political meaning which may or may not be intended but is not in my opinion appropriate. “Death by enemy action” would seem to me more appropriate.
    Turning to the legality of the Israeli action, Al Jazeera has published at an interview with Douglas Guilfoyle, an Australian Law Faculty member of University College London, which seems to be compatible with Morgan, but to take the analysis a bit further by addressing the legality or otherwise of the blockade of Gaza, on which the legality of the action against the flotilla depends.
    The international view on this has developed. The Prime Minister said in Parliament on 2 June, in a statement which had broad support across the House, “We should do everything we can through the United Nations, where resolution 1860 is absolutely clear about the need to end the blockade and to open up Gaza.” Resolution 1860, which was sponsored by the UK in January 2009 in the context of the Gaza war but on which the US abstained, called for “the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment.”
    But the statement by the President of the Security Council on 1 June 2010 takes us slightly further, first in that it was supported by all the members including the US, and second in that it called for “sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza.”

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Oliver. I wonder, though, whether statements of the undesirability of the blockade and the desirability of ending it have any bearing on its legality? As to the demands for the unimpeded provision to Gaza of humanitarian assistance, I imagine that the Israelis would claim that they are complying with this and that the only purpose of their (and Egypt’s) blockade is to prevent the supply of arms to Hamas that could and obviously would be used against innocent Israeli civilians.

    Don’t you have the impression that there’s far more international pressure on Israel to end the blockade (by implication unconditionally) than any pressure on Hamas to renounce its attacks on Israel and its openly stated objective of destroying Israel as a state? It seems obvious to me that the best hope of ending the blockade and the hardship that it causes to many people in Gaza is to remove the reasons for which it is imposed. That pretty clearly implies action by Hamas. I suppose that a precondition for such action by Hamas may be some form of reconciliation with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, improbable as that might sound. Meanwhile “the struggle continues”, and there seems to be precious little that Israel can do about it except to try to keep the level of attacks down by periodic retaliation, and to deny even more sophisitcated weaponry to Hamas.

  4. Oliver Miles says:

    No, I do not agree that there is far more international pressure on Israel than on Hamas. The position of the Quartet (America, Europe, Russia and the UN) has been clear for years, particularly after Hamas’s victory in the elections in Gaza, and was for example restated by William Hague in Parliament on 2 June: Hamas must forswear violence, accept previous agreements and recognise the state of Israel. Three members of the Quartet (not Russia) insist that these preconditions must be met before even exploratory talks can take place. This “international pressure” has had, up to the present, material form in the world acceptance of the Israeli blockade.

    One flaw in this policy was pointed out by David Miliband: “The continuation of the blockade, not just by Israel but until yesterday by Egypt too, brings misery to Palestinians and does nothing to weaken the hold of Hamas on the territory – the alleged aim of the policy. In fact, revenue from smuggling taxes funds Hamas.” Hague thanked him for ” the implicit support that he has given to the Government’s position and for the argument that he makes that the Israeli policy towards Gaza does not loosen but tightens the grip of Hamas on the people of Gaza.”
    But there is a more important flaw in the Quartet’s policy.. It was left to Sir Menzies Campbell to ask whether condemnation of Israel and arguing for the raising of the blockade, taken by themselves, will bring about the solution that we all seek. “Drawing on our colonial experience and recent experience in Northern Ireland, is it not clear that sooner or later, however controversial it may be, Hamas will have to be brought into the circle of discussions?”
    He is right. We are repeating the very mistake we made in the 70s and 80s when we refused for years to bring the PLO into the circle. That policy is self-defeating, because even if agreement is reached on a solution to the Palestine problem (as it was, for example, at Camp David in 1978), the solution will collapse unless the parties to the dispute have a stake in it, and that includes the Palestinians of Gaza as well as those of the West Bank.
    Those who have had contact with Hamas argue that Hamas are capable of the flexibility necessary to play a part in a compromise solution. My own very limited contact with them tends to confirm that. What seems clear is that if they are excluded from an agreement they can block its implementation.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Oliver. You make an important point about what seems to me a sizeable disconnect between the position of western governments (heavily influenced by Washington) on the one hand, and the overwhelmingly anti-Israel sentiment of the great bulk of western public opinion on the other. Certainly the majority of the left in Britain has now occupied a position so vehemently hostile to Israel as to arouse suspicion of some pathological cause, as a glance at the editorial, comment and letters pages of the Observer and the Guardian amply testify.

    I agree that the conditions set for opening some form of talks with Hamas are unreasonable, requiring Hamas to concede in advance what the talks would aim to achieve. But even if those preconditions were to be dropped, I find it very hard to imagine any basis on which talks with Hamas could possibly succeed: Hamas’s fundamental aims, almost its raison d’être, are surely inherently irreconcilable with Israel’s own fundamental aims (i.e. to continue to exist as a sovereign state, inside secure borders and recognised by its neighbours). It’s true that the same might have been said a few years ago about the IRA and the British government, but in that case it was possible to arrive at a non-violent compromise only because the IRA’s basic aim, i.e. Irish reunification, is one inherently capable of being achieved by non-violent, political means and not solely by violence. That seems to me not the case with Hamas: i.e. there is no way that Israel could acquiesce in its own disappearance as a Jewish state even if that outcome could be achieved by non-violent means. What possible inducement in talks with Hamas could be offered to it to abandon its core objective, namely ridding ancient Palestine of Israel and its Jews? Still, I agree: better to explore the possibilities, however unpromising, than continue to keep Hamas at arms length. (Surely there are already discreet back channel contacts going on all the time to probe for signs of flexibility? Has any such sign ever been detected, I wonder?)

  5. I agree with what you say. The purpose of this was a PR effort organised by Turkey on behalf of Hamas and the Iranosaurus that stands behind it. And Hamas is four-square in the very worst tradition of European anti-Semitism, hook-nosed Jewish financiers, Protocols of the Elders of Zion and all. Though what has happened is not at all what Turkey planned, there will not be many sad faces in Ankara right now.
    That is the reason why I say that Israel was stupid. They have walked straight into a trap that was set before them. I have no doubt that not all of the cargo, or all of the people, on those ships were innocent. I also am sure that Turkey and its Arab allies set out to embarrass Israel. But that should have been foreseen and taken into account. Israeli intelligence seems to have had little idea of what was really going on on the ships. They could surely have been taken by a professional and well-trained army without bloodshed given the level of violence in the resistance that was in fact offered. Even a full-scale warship firing warning shots would have been less embarrassing than this fiasco.
    The diplomatic problem seems to be how to bring Israel back to reality. I fully accept its desire for security and understand the perception that it is surrounded by enemies, but its present strategy will not succeed. International support for Hamas and the other Muslim dictatorships and theocracies is growing and will not be stopped by further repression. Israel could call Hamas’ bluff and end the blockade. Then we would see whether Hamas would negotiate or whether it would still continue attacking an Israel that was seeking a peaceful outcome.
    As things are, I see sensible, intelligent people supporting some of the most vile political regimes in the world because those regimes claim to support peace and to be victims. The naivety of these “useful idiots“, many of whom should know an awful lot lot better, does not surprise me however. We have seen the selfsame thing before with apologists for the USSR and its satellites.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Peter. I think we’re very much of one mind on all this. My only worry about your suggestion that Israel should ‘call Hamas’s bluff and end the blockade’ is that I don’t think Hamas is bluffing. Within a fortnight of the blockade being lifted, long-range rockets would be arriving in Gaza for Hamas from Iran or Syria that could reach Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and beyond, including Cairo. This would leave few options for Israel other than to re-occupy the Gaza Strip, this time perhaps permanently, inevitably involving once again heavy loss of mainly Palestinian life, which would put Israel in the wrong all over again in the eyes of the bien-pensant liberal west. Until the international community can devise a credible and effective system for monitoring all imports into Gaza to guarantee that they don’t include weaponry for use against Israel, I fear that the existing blockade is bound to continue, and that attempts to breach it will precipitate further casualties inflicted by Israel on activists, both the extremists and the innocently deluded.

  6. Dave says:

     Brian, you agree with Oliver Miles that it is unreasonable to require Hamas to concede in advance what the talks would aim to achieve, ie to forswear violence, accept previous agreements and recognise the state of Israel. 
    Contrariwise, do you think it is reasonable to expect the Israelis to accept anything less in advance of negotiations when they were led to believe that the PLO had already conceded these points?
    In the final paragraph of Arafat’s letter of 9 September 1993 to Rabin as part of the Oslo process he wrote, “…the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant that deny Israel’s right to exist and the provisions of the Covenant that are inconsistent with this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid.  Consequently the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant.”  In his reply, Rabin, as Prime Minister of Israel, confirmed that the Government of Israel had decided to recognise the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.
    Of course, there has been some notable back-tracking on these commitments
    For example, an interview with the official Palestinian TV station on 17 March 2009 Muhammad Dahlan, Fatah’s former head of security in Gaza, stated, “[Hamas] say that Fatah has asked them to recognize Israel’s right to exist and this is a big deception. For the one thousandth time, I want to reaffirm that we are not asking Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Rather, we are asking Hamas not to do so because Fatah never recognized Israel’s right to exist”. He explained that it was the PLO, and not Fatah, which recognized Israel’s right to exist when the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.
    According to a more detailed report on the Palestinian Media Watch website, <> Dahlan said that the PLO s recognition of Israel was not binding on Fatah and Hamas as resistance factions but was necessary to ensure a continuing flow of aid from the international community.
    The same report attributes similar comments to Abbas in 2006.
    It is worth reading both these items in the report and listening to the associated videos of Dahlan and Abbas.  Arabic speakers using this blog may wish to comment on the accuracy of the subtitles.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Dave. Yes, I do think it reasonable to ask Israel to drop its preconditions for embarking on (initially informal) talks, rather than negotiations, with Hamas, provided that Hamas also abandons any preconditions. Israel’s and most western governments’ preconditions for talks are not at all unreasonable in themselves, but the consequence of insisting on them is that no talks will be held, and it will be impossible even to begin to explore the possibility, however remote, of discovering even limited common ground. On the Kissinger principle of tackling the easiest problems first, setting aside the fundamental and difficult ones for later, there should be lots of ways in which Hamas and Israel could agree on limited kinds of practical cooperation on the ground without either side being required to abandon its long-term aims and objectives and without prejudice to those aims and objectives. Agreement on quite trivial matters could just possibly begin to establish a degree of confidence that might permit further agreement later on slightly more controversial matters. Unfortunately a major obstacle to any such change of strategy appears to be Fatah’s fear of Hamas beginning to acquire a degree of international or even Israeli recognition and legitimacy, which would be damaging to Fatah in its deadly competition with Hamas for the allegiance of all Palestinians, and, worse, which might set in conmcrete the current fatal division between the two Palestinian parties, a division which is one of the principal obstacles to any progress in the peace process. There’s thus a built-in Catch 22 in the situation.

    I think however that it’s a fair assumption that whatever the two sides might say on the record, unofficial and deniable contacts between Hamas and the Israelis are taking place all the time, probably with American (and Egyptian and other Arab?) encouragement and perhaps participation. Perhaps these might lead somewhere one day. Meanwhile the present mutually indignant stand-off seems to be leading nowhere, and it appears to me, a non-specialist in the area, self-evidently in need of urgent and imaginative revision.

  7. Dave says:

    Brian, I note the distinction you draw between informal talks and negotiations.  Your fair assumption seems to be that something on the lines of the former is already taking place anyway.

    I think the Oslo process (1993-2000) was pure Kissinger principle.  As to “limited kinds of practical cooperation on the ground “, the daily lorry loads passing from Israel into Gaza are presumably an example of this.  If I remember rightly, this also took place during Cast Lead.

    Can you direct me to any historical precedent for peaceful outcomes where one or more of the parties to a dispute has taken an explicitly genocidal, zero sum, theologically based approach?

    Less challengingly perhaps, could you please amend my post to insert inverted commas after the second reference to the Palestinian Covenant and change “Fatah s” to “Fatah’s” in line 13?

    Brian writes: Thanks, Dave. Your last sentence: done. Your penultimate sentence: I doubt if even a professional historian (which I’m certainly not) would be able to come up with the kind of exact precedent for which you ask: history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself in quite such detail. I’m anyway not entirely convinced that the epithets which you apply to, implicitly, Hamas’s approach are all fully justified.

    I suppose the equivalent question that I might ask you is whether you can cite a historical precedent for any state succeeding in reconciling democratic principles with a racial-religious basis for full citizenship, or for an international community which pays at least lip service to democracy and an abhorrence of racism continuing indefinitely to support a state whose whole basis is avowedly race-based, or even to acquiesce in its continued existence? I understand and deeply sympathise with the idea of a Jewish national state and home, being half-Jewish myself, but I’m sad to find myself unable to imagine how Israel can survive in the medium term as such a state in any meaningful sense of “Jewish”.

    A “two-state solution” for that reason seems to me a chimera. The best that Israeli Jews can hope for, in my view, in the medium term is an internationally guaranteed enclave in a single Palestinian state, perhaps with a quasi-federal relationship between the enclave and the country as a whole. The only alternative will be the continuation of the current status quo but with Israel under increasingly arduous siege, in terms of security and international diplomatic and political isolation, and forced to resort to increasingly oppressive and aggressive measures to try to preserve the Jewish character and security of the country and eventually its survival as an independent state. Bleak, I know, but I don’t realistically see any other possible outcome.

  8. Dave says:

    It is true that Jewishness normally provides an automatic entitlement to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, but anyone can go through the admittedly demanding process of converting to Judaism if they want to and thereby qualify, so the law is not per se racist.  People can also become Israeli citizens via other criteria and I understand that hundreds of Darfuri refugees, have been allowed to do so.
    I don’t believe anyone other than a Muslim can become a citizen of Saudi Arabia.  Also, according to Wikipedia, “In addition to Israel, several other countries provide immigration privileges to individuals with ethnic ties to these countries. Examples include Germany, Ireland, Serbia, Greece, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Chile, and Finland.”  However, your view that the international community will not give Israel a similar free pass may sadly be correct.
    You are presumably familiar with the Hamas Covenant.  It includes the following:-
    “The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:
    “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Muslim).
    I understand this is from the Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet, as such part of Islam’s sacred literature, and it seems, to me at least, significant that they insert it into their main political document. Without simply brushing aside this document, I don’t see why you contest my characterisation of the Hamas approach as “explicitly genocidal, zero sum, and theologically based”. 
    Frankly, I think the single state solution you advocate, which is clearly building up quite a head of steam on the left, would lead to an enormous blood bath.  As for international guarantees and similar arrangements, their record has not been inspiring: Srebrenica,the Lebanon border…
    There is a danger that debates like this can become iterative, as I have seen on other blogs, so I shall probably concede the last word to you without signifying assent.
    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Dave. I lack the expertise to enter into a legal or theological debate with you on the question whether the concept of Israel as a Jewish state is inherently racist, or whether in due course increasingly racially discriminatory measures will become necessary for Israel to maintain its identity as in some sense a Jewish state and a safe homeland for Jews. The fact that there are racist, ethnic, or nationally discriminatory features in other states’ constitutions is surely beside the point. I share in spades your abhorrence of the murderous anti-semitism of the Hamas constitution and fully agree that it represents a huge obstacle to any settlement with Israel. I believe that this, among other things, may well prevent a two-state solution from being adopted although I wouldn’t rule out some sort of modus vivendi becoming acceptable to all concerned once everyone becomes sickened by the endless violence and insecurity. Beyond that, I fear we must agree to disagree.

  9. A “two-state solution” for that reason seems to me a chimera. The best that Israeli Jews can hope for, in my view, in the medium term is an internationally guaranteed enclave in a single Palestinian state, perhaps with a quasi-federal relationship between the enclave and the country as a whole. The only alternative will be the continuation of the current status quo but with Israel under increasingly arduous siege, in terms of security and international diplomatic and political isolation, and forced to resort to increasingly oppressive and aggressive measures to try to preserve the Jewish character and security of the country and eventually its survival as an independent state. Bleak, I know, but I don’t realistically see any other possible outcome.

    As a newcomer to your site I am loath to comment but your remarks above seem to be the subject of short memory.  When Israel stood on the policy of NO to a Palestinian State it was castigated from all quarters. When that policy change took place expectations were placed on Arafat to bring it about. Once again he failed Palestinians. Now that a two state policy is firmly enshrined by all serious Israeli parties it is becoming rejected by many especially on the Left.  It reminds me of the old story of the Jewish man being asked by his neighbour why Jews always stuck together and didn`t join in local activities.  The Jewish man asked his neighbour if he belonged to the local golf club to which he received an affirmative reply. “Well”, answered the Jew, “they don`t take Jews as members…..they refused my application and every application from any Jew who applied so we opened our own club.”
    There is no doubt in my opinion  that when discussion is about Israel the terms of whatever reference are distorted.
    Brian writes: Thank you for this, and welcome to Ephems. With respect, though, I think you have misinterpreted the remarks of mine which you quote. I made, and make, no comment or judgement on Israel, Arafat, the Palestinians, the Quartet, resolution 242, or any of those who over the years have either advocated or denounced a two-state solution for the middle east. For years, ever since I was in the Security Council chamber when resolution 242 was unanimously adopted in 1967, I thought it obvious that a two-state ‘solution’ alone offered a hopeful way forward. It seemed increasingly possible that it would eventually be accepted by all concerned and form the basis for an overall settlement. In the last few years, however, for the reasons in my gloomy blog post which you quote, I have most reluctantly come to the conclusion that on the Palestinian side there doesn’t exist, and won’t exist, a critical mass of opinion on the Arab Street willing to accept and recognise the permanent presence of Israel as an independent Jewish state in its pre-1967 or any other borders; and that over time Israel won’t be able to preserve both its Jewish identity and simultaneously its democratic system of government, since the preservation of its Jewishness will increasingly entail discrimination against its non-Jewish population on an unmistakeably racial basis, which will be unacceptable both to Israeli democrats and to international opinion generally. On both grounds I now think that the only viable alternative to the current semi-violent stalemate will be a single Palestinian state within which a defined area will be reserved for ‘Israeli’ Jews enjoying full internal self-government and freedom to practise their religion (if they wish; not if they don’t), with international guarantees of the security of their special status, but nominally coming under Palestinian sovereignty. I don’t expect either the Americans or any Israel government or the EU or the Security Council to abandon their commitment to a two-state solution any time soon; perhaps some of them never will. But I think that changing realities on the ground will eventually — probably not in my life-time, so I’ll be denied the opportunity to say “I told you so!” — force all concerned to the same conclusion. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

    Meanwhile I make no criticism of those many individuals and governments that take a contrary view, although I am always interested to hear how they think the twin problems I describe can be resolved to the satisfaction of the principal actors in this long-running tragedy — the Palestinians, and the Israelis.

    I certainly reject any imputation of anti-semitism or prejudice against (or in favour of) Israel in advancing this admittedly controversial minority view, if that is the implied charge underlying your comment. I am half Jewish myself and am well equipped to recognise anti-semitism when I see it — and I do see a strain of it in much of the vitriolic denunciation of Israeli policies and actions, some of which I agree deserve condemnation and some of which I believe do not.

  10. Dave says:

    I know I wasn’t going to revive the topic and perhaps it would be better if I engaged with the points you have made but you may be interested in this.

    I haven’t read the J Burchill article and probably ought to try and track it down or concentrate on nobler endeavours such as the tax return.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Dave. I thought that the gallant Colonel’s letter, his daughter’s action, and the comment on both in the left-hand panel, were all deeply ambiguous. If those on the ‘flotilla’ had been interested primarily in getting humanitarian supplies through to the people of Gaza, they would have accepted the Israeli offer to receive the cargoes for security inspection at an Israeli port and onward transit to Gaza. If they were primarily interested in forcing the Israelis (and Egyptians) to lift the blockade of Gaza, in which they have so far proved to be partially successful, they should have said so — and they should have made sure that their operation was not contaminated by Turkish internal and external politics, which raised legitimate questions about the ultimate purposes of some of those involved. Idealists need to avoid being treated as useful idiots by groups with less pure motives.

    As for the strange left-hand panel column, it’s obviously absurd to condemn those who try to come to the aid of any one distressed group on the grounds that they should have gone instead to the aid of another even more distressed group. Indeed, it’s not only absurd, it’s pernicious, because it distracts attention from the more important question of the real motives and intentions of those concerned, and the likely consequences for good or evil of their actions.

    It may also distract attention from the most important issue of all — your tax returns. Come on, Dave: the tax man is waiting….