Hizbullah's victory has transformed the Middle East
The defeat of the regional superpower could yet open the way to
a wider settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict
George Galloway in Beirut
Guardian" -- -- As the smoke clears from the
battlefield of the 34-day war in Lebanon, it would be a mistake
to count the cost only in fallen masonry and fresh graves. All
is changed, changed utterly, by the defeat that the whole of
Israel is now debating, from the cabinet through the lively
press to the embittered reservists at the falafel stall.
Practically the only person in the world who claims Israel won
the war is George Bush - and we all know his definition of the
words "mission accomplished".
Reports that the Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, expressed
regret this week at having underestimated Israel's reponse to
the capture of two of its soldiers were misleading. In fact,
Nasrallah thanked God that the attack came when the resistance
movement was prepared, as he was convinced Israel would have
otherwise invaded later in the year at a time of its choosing.
If the fierce thicket of the Iraqi resistance stopped the Bush
war spreading to Syria then the extraordinary Hizbullah victory
has surely made the world think again about an attack on Iran.
But the main - and maybe the most welcome - shift in the
40-year-old paradigm of the Israeli-Arab conflict is the
puncturing of the belief in a permanent and unchallengeable
Israeli military superiority over its neighbours and the hubris
this has induced in Israeli leaders - from the sleek Shimon
Peres through the roughhouse of Binyamin Netanyahu to the
stumbling Mr Magoo premiership of Ehud Olmert.
The myth of invincibility is a souffle that cannot rise twice.
Over the past week I have picked my way through the rubble of
Dahia in downtown Beirut, now resembling London's East End at
the height of the blitz, and across the south of Lebanon in
towns such as Bint Jbeil whose centres look as if they have been
hit by an earthquake. Here the litter of banned weapons lies
like a legal time bomb - evidence of war crimes alleged by the
UN and Amnesty International that in a genuine system of
international justice would put Israel in the dock at The Hague.
This, together with the beating Israel has received in
international public opinion, is the collateral damage suffered
alongside military humiliation.
Israel announced the capture of Bint Jbeil several times, but in
truth it never held the town - or anywhere else for that matter
- throughout the war. Despite raining down thousands of tons of
high explosive on homes, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges,
ambulances, UN posts, oil storage depots, electricity plants and
virtually every petrol station south of Beirut (the bombers
seemed to have a crazed thirst for petrol stations, while
telling the world that they were kindly inviting the residents
of south Lebanon to get into their cars and leave their homes
for a little while), the Israelis were given a severe mauling by
Hizbullah fighters when it came to boots on the ground.
Paradoxically, some believe that all this has blown open a
window in which it is possible to glimpse the possibility of a
comprehensive settlement of the near-century-old conflicts which
lie behind the recent war. Now that the status quo ante has been
swept away, we may even see an FW de Klerk moment emerge in
Israel (and among its indispensable international backers).
The leader of the white tribes of apartheid South Africa waited
until the critical mass of opposition threatened to overwhelm
the position of the previously invincible minority, and sold the
transfer of power on the basis that a settlement later, under
more severe duress, would be less favourable. Israel's
trajectory is now heading towards such a moment.
A comprehensive settlement now would of course look much like it
has for decades: Israeli withdrawal from land occupied in 1967;
respect for the legal rights of Palestinian refugees to return;
the emergence of a real Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as
its capital - a contiguous state with an Arab border, with no
Zionist settlements and military roads, and with internationally
guaranteed Palestinian control over its land, air, sea and
water. In exchange there would be Arab recognition,
normalisation and, in time, acceptance of Israel into the Middle
East as something other than a settler garrison of the imperial
Just as you can't be a little bit pregnant, a settlement can't
be a little bit comprehensive. Attempts - like the one more than
a decade ago in Oslo - to obfuscate, shave and sculpt such a
package to the point of unrecognisability will founder on the
The Arab world is waking up to its potential power. It has seen
the Iraqis confound Anglo-American efforts to recolonise their
country, the unbreakability, whatever the cost, of the
Palestinian resistance, and now the success of Hizbullah. If
there is no settlement there can only be war, war and more war,
until one day it is Tel Aviv which is on fire and the Israeli
leaders' intransigence brings the whole state down on their
heads. Nor is it only Israel that will pay the price for
continued conflict: the enduring injustice of Palestinian
dispossession has already poisoned western-Muslim relations and
helped spill violence and hatred on to our own streets. There is
still time to choose peace. But make no mistake, with the
victory of Hizbullah, a terrible beauty is born.
· George Galloway is the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow -
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