Reading the British press – or even listening to some ministers – you would be forgiven
for thinking that the only obstacle preventing Middle East peace is Israeli obstinacy and Benjamin Netanyahu’s unwillingness to force his political allies – like Shas – to the negotiating table.
But, as always, things are a bit more complicated than the newspaper headlines would suggest. From Israel’s position, the region is looking increasingly hostile. Talk of a war in Lebanon with
Hezbollah persists. In Syria, President Assad looks less interested in a rapprochement than he has done for years. Turkey is now closer than at anytime to declaring Israel an enemy -
military-to-military links have stopped and the ruling AKP party’s rhetoric about Israel and also Iran rightly worries
Pressure from Iran on Israel – either through Hamas and Hezbollah or directly – persists and the US promise of another twenty F-35 stealth fighters means less when the Obama administration seems to
be going soft on Tehran’s nuclear programme. Hamas still seems as unwilling as before to live in peace and harmony with Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, let alone Israel.
Some still argue that the best way for Israel to turn the tables on its foes is for the Netanyahu government to make peace with the Palestinians. In many European foreign ministries, the Foreign
Office included, it sometimes sounds as if only Israel is to blame.
But al Qaeda did not take a break from its war-mongering when Yitzak Rabin sought to make peace; it will not now either. Similarly, Iran uses the Palestinian cause to great effect – but is unlikely
to be deterred from its hegemonic mission if a settlement was announced.
The Israeli government’s reluctance to agree a 90-day moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank is one stumbling block on the road to peace – but it is only one of many much larger
boulders. Additionally, while a permanent Israeli-Palestinian settlement should still be the goal, nobody should have any illusions about its gordian-untying qualities.