Even if Ariel Sharon's men do succeed in eliminating the entire Hamas leadership, the suicide bombings and rocket attacks on Israel will continue and perhaps intensify. No doubt the classic texts of counter-insurgency advise that resistance is best crushed by eliminating its leaders. But the textbooks do not consider the despair of an entire people suffering under an occupation which makes itself tangible daily - through security fences, checkpoints, ditches and sensors, alongside seizures of water supplies, olive groves and grazing land - and which makes not the smallest effort to buy off a section of the occupied population. Nor do the textbooks consider a resistance movement that minimises its logistic and organisational problems by using the bodies of its soldiers as its chief explosive weapon.
Thus the war between Israelis and Palestinians is stalemated, as surely as was the First World War in the Flanders mud, with neither side able to claim significant progress towards its goals. Israel's assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, will contribute not one iota to its aspirations for security. Equally, the next suicide bomber will not in any way hasten Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories. The temptation now for both is to go for a decisive strike: a Palestinian attack on an Israeli target that kills thousands or an Israeli mission of ethnic cleansing on the West Bank. Can anything be done to stop the conflict reaching that stage?
There is, and has only ever been, one sensible solution: Israel's withdrawal within its 1948-67 boundaries. To be sure, some Arabs say they wish to drive all Jews into the sea, or at least to the boundaries of the original 1947 partition plan. But they are a minority, just as are those Israelis who genuinely believe that Judea and Samaria, as original Biblical lands, should be incorporated into a Greater Israel. Moreover, they pose no greater threat to Israel than flat-earthers pose to the roundness of the planet. Even if Israel were not equipped with nuclear weapons, its Arab neighbours are in no position militarily to attempt another invasion. A return to its original boundaries would not only guarantee Israel's security, it would also ensure the future integrity of the Jewish state. As Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute at New York University pointed out in a much-discussed article in the New York Review of Books last year, an expanded Israel would put Jews in a minority within a very short time. It could then abandon its commitments either to democracy or to a Jewish national home. It could not have both, unless it ethnically cleansed the occupied territories.
Professor Judt went on to suggest that, since it will be impossible to shift the 250,000 armed Jewish settlers, the solution is not two states, but one. A binational state, shared between Jews and Arabs, would in any case be more in tune with a world where multiculturalism has become the norm, not the exception, and where "people increasingly intermingle and intermarry at will". Israel was an anachronism and it was time to "think the unthinkable".
Though the logic is impeccable, it is hard to take this proposal seriously. The upshot would most likely be a bloodbath on the lines of Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia. Having fought to preserve their identity for more than 50 years, it is hardly likely that Israelis would agree to submerge it in a state with an Arab majority. Many would feel they had indeed been driven into the sea, metaphorically if not physically. The alternative, of a return to the 1948-67 boundaries, looks far more acceptable by comparison, and the whole history of colonial occupation (notably the French in Algeria) suggests that that is the inevitable end.
But how, short of an Israeli Charles de Gaulle, to achieve it? Here, too, it is time to think the unthinkable. Talks at Camp David, handshakes on the White House lawn, road maps designed in the US State Department - these have got nowhere. Simplicity is all. Tell both sides that the 1948-67 boundaries, with no Palestinian right of return to lands within those borders, is the favoured solution and that the US and its allies will guarantee and enforce this settlement and no other. If they fail to agree, both sides lose all western aid (military as well as economic, in Israel's case) and are left, as they perhaps should have been long ago, to resolve their own problems. The objection to any such solution will be that it would risk unacceptable bloodshed, as did the partition of the Indian subcontinent.
But blood is being shed now, and we are heading at an alarming rate towards something far worse.
Who gives a damn about food?
Who are these "consumer watchdogs" who, it is reported, are now fussing over the colour of our curries? Rip-offs in the financial services industry go largely unpunished (see Patrick Hosking, page 35), estate agents tell bare-faced lies, pubs habitually fail to serve a full pint. All these things happen to the residents of Surrey as much as to anyone else, yet their county council officers, it is reported, have toured the local Indian restaurants and found excessive levels of tartrazine (E102) in chicken tikka marsala. The watchdogs fail to understand that the English do not care very much for food. They do not want it to taste like food or to look like food, any more than they want to have sex with the lights on. That is why they overcook their vegetables, and drench everything in salt and malt vinegar. Only languid, effete foreigners want to spend time savouring their meals. The English have serious work to get on with.