By Daniel Johnson, October 19, 2001
IF 5,500 people had not been horribly murdered in America on September 11,
would Tony Blair have invited Yasser Arafat to Downing Street? Why, in the
midst of a war against terrorism, does the Prime Minister embrace the man
who, more than any other, invented international terrorism?
September 11 ought to have strengthened Israel’s relationship with the West.
Israel’s enemies are our enemies. In such a common predicament, to
demonstrate solidarity with Israel ought to have been an elementary duty.
Instead, our governments have so far done the opposite. America and
Britain have talked up the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The
purpose of the “peace process” is no longer to make peace, but to satisfy one
party to the conflict. No peace without full sovereignty for Arafat’s Palestine
will be regarded by London and Washington as just and permanent.
Mr Blair is demanding that Israelis accept a new state, carved out of territory
that is now being used to attack them, over which they will have no control.
Most Israelis accept, as I do, that such a new state will one day exist.
But what reason do they have to suppose that the new Palestine will not
be a terrorist state, like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Iran and Afghanistan? Other states,
such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, offer covert sponsorship.
So does Yasser Arafat. From Oslo to Camp David, even unprecedented Israeli
concessions could not persuade Mr Arafat to sign a treaty. The disillusionment
of Israeli public opinion with the peace process since the resumption of the
intifada is total.
Yet Mr Blair is demanding that Israel resume talks with Mr Arafat as if
the suicide bombings, which some 75 per cent of Palestinians support, had
never happened. Why should Israel trust a man who has probably had more
Jews killed in the past 50 years than anyone since Hitler?
Osama bin Laden is thus already well on the way to achieving one of his
declared aims: the “liberation”, that is Islamisation, of Jerusalem. Yesterday Mr
Arafat insisted that east Jerusalem must be the capital of the new Palestinian
state. By feting Mr Arafat at such a time, Mr Blair effectively endorsed his
demands. The US State Department is also said to favour a divided Jerusalem.
Hence the significance of Jack Straw’s recent visit to Iran – sponsor of
Hezbollah and other terrorists – and the notorious article in which he compared
outrage at September 11 to “the anger which many people in the region feel at
events over the years in Palestine”.
The Foreign Secretary was suggesting a moral equivalence between
Israel and terrorists of bin Laden’s stamp, a standard trope of Islamist
Yesterday Mr Blair, too, implied an equivalence between September 11 and “the
suffering of the Palestinians”. He revealed that the Americans and British had
been pressuring Israel even before the crisis.
Ariel Sharon was at first defiant, seeking to shame the West by invoking
the bogy of appeasement and foolishly implying that Mr Bush was a
Chamberlain. When the President reacted angrily, the rattled Israeli Prime
Indeed, Mr Sharon has often seemed by turns belligerent and weak. But he
would have been blamed whatever he had done. The Israeli premier is despised
in the State Department and the Foreign Office. Mr Sharon is being blamed for
creating a vacuum that has been filled by bin Laden.
Western diplomats have long blamed Israel for the Middle Eastern
conflict. Now Israel is blamed for Islamist terrorism too.
The strategic justification of American support for Israel is widely held to
have ended with the Cold War. Now the moral justification seems to have been
Yet Israel has been engaged in the same struggle against the same enemies for
two generations. Terrorism in its modern form – the hijacking and destruction of
airliners – is a consequence of the failure to annihilate Israel by military assault.
Its emergence created the climate in which messianic revolutionaries
such as Osama bin Laden could flourish. He is merely the latest in a long
sequence of demagogues – Nasser, Gaddafi, Arafat, Khomeini, Saddam – who
have used terrorism not only against Israel, but against the West. Terrorism is a
continuation of jihad by other means. It cannot be appeased, only defeated.
That the motivation for the assault on New York was, in part, anti-Jewish was
already evident at the time. Anti-Semitism is more virulent than ever in the
Islamic world. The suicide killer makes sense only within the context of a
genocidal ideology. The scenes of mothers celebrating the self-immolation of
their sons are otherwise incomprehensible.
Europeans and Americans fail to understand the ferocity of this struggle, even
though it is dawning on them that the Islamists who have long menaced their
own Jewish citizens along with Israel have now become a threat to everybody.
Israelis are often accused of paranoia. But there is a subliminal
anti-Semitism at work in the persistent desire of the West to identify with states
and movements that deny Israel’s right to exist.
The power of the Islamic lobby here is palpable; witness David Blunkett’s
law on incitement to religious hatred, demanded by Muslim leaders and
instantly conceded. If the Palestinian spokesman Afif Safieh is correct that
Western public opinion sees Israel as “the Prussia of the Middle East”, then
Israelis have reason to be paranoid.
Yet there is a pragmatic case for standing by them. Israel is still the only true
democracy in its region. Zionism is a Western ideology; unlike Islamic
fundamentalism, it is compatible with modern secular culture. Israel is now the
Silicon Valley of the Levant; it is a reliable source of intelligence – in both
We have many allies in the Middle East, but Israel is the only one we
cannot imagine as our enemy.
To abandon Israel now would give the Islamists the strongest possible incentive
to escalate the global jihad.
Nemesis would overtake the West. Such a betrayal, and such a nemesis,
are too hideous to contemplate.
Instead, Mr Bush must once again mobilise the great arsenal of
democracy on behalf of its only champion among the despots of the Orient.