On February 2, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defence Minister and a former Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief of staff, stated that unless Israel made peace with the Palestinians, it would lose its Jewish majority or become an apartheid state. The context is the increasing domestic and international pressure on its government to hold a public inquiry into Operation Cast Lead. The three-week war, waged in 2008-2009 against Hamas forces in Gaza following a clear Israeli breach of a ceasefire, resulted in the death of 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. To start with, Israeli soldiers have told the country’s biggest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot, that the IDF rewrote the rules of engagement in Cast Lead. This was to protect Israeli soldiers at the expense of Palestinian civilians; and the targeted killing of ‘identified terrorists’ was turned into a shoot-first, ask-later policy. Secondly, an international mines action team, followed by United Nations technical staff, has confirmed finding part of an air-dropped 113 kg Mk 82 bomb in the ruins of the sole functioning flour mill in Gaza. Judge Richard Goldstone’s report to the United Nation concludes that the mill attack was intended to deny sustenance to the civilian population; it was potentially a war crime, and negates Israeli claims to have observed international law during Cast Lead. Thirdly, Israel denies disciplining two senior officers for using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza, though it does not deny using the chemical. Finally, in an attack on a civilian-occupied U.N. compound on January 6, 2010, the IDF massacred 40 Palestinians despite knowing that its troops had not been fired on from within the compound.

Mr. Barak’s warning is, however, at best partial. Since winning the 1967 war with Egypt, Israel has had a population of over 1.5 million Palestinians, whom it intends neither to expel nor to absorb as citizens with full rights. A viable Palestinian state would presumably relieve Israel of the charge of apartheid. Secondly, Mr. Barak has mentioned neither the 500,000 illegal Israeli occupants of the West Bank nor a halt to further construction there. The historian, Avi Shlaim calls this a dispute over a pizza in which one person continues to ‘gobble up’ the pizza during the discussions. Furthermore, Mr. Barak’s own government has rejected all calls for a freeze on further West Bank settlement; this means that a major precondition for a peace agreement will not be met. Can there be the slightest doubt that Israel is simply not up to reaching a just and equitable agreement with the Palestinians?

Correction

The last sentence in “Facing up to Gaza truths” (Editorial, February 8, 2010) was “Finally, in an attack on a civilian occupied U.N. compound on January 6, 2010, the IDF massacred 40 Palestinians ….” The year should have been 2009.

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