What's the matter with Israel? Why, when you live in the heart of the Islamic world, would you encourage America's irresponsible idiot to move its embassy to Jerusalem? Why risk the utterly predictable response and then have your guards open fire on protesters at the Gaza border?

What a way to mark your 70th anniversary. It served only to remind the rest of the world how long we have lived with this festering sore.

Seventy years ago Stalin was running the Soviet Union, the Cold War was just beginning, other long running troubles of the 20th century, apartheid and Northern Ireland, had yet to appear. All those problems seemed intractable until suddenly, they were not. As the century drew to a close, good leadership settled them. Only the Arab-Israeli conflict has persisted into the 21st century with no end in sight.

In fact, this century it has got worse. On one side, Israel has built walls and checkpoints against the Palestinians it has driven from their homes in the occupied territories. On the other, Islam has been infected by a fundamentalist revival that has forced women back into headscarves and at its extremes, generated the terrorism that haunts the world in the new century.


Meanwhile, Israel appears to have given up on peace efforts and resigned itself to living with never-ending rocket attacks and reprisals.

When criticising Israel it is important to remember there will be many Israelis agreeing with you. The place is a lively democracy and for the first 25 years of its modern existence it had good, strong but peace-seeking governments. Those were the years when it generally had unequivocal Western support in wars initiated by the surrounding countries.

It won those wars easily, captured the rest of Palestine and proved once and for all that it is the most powerful state in the region, having possibly the most effective military and intelligence services in the world.

That was the moment the world needed Israel to be magnanimous. It had achieved enough security to leaven Zionism with recognition that it lived in an Islamic region and had displaced an Arab population that might be reconciled by giving Palestinians a national identity within a shared, pluralist state.

It is not very hard to understand why the creation of Israel was felt as a dagger in the heart of Arabs. The centenary years of World War I have caused me to read a lot of its history. Last year was the centenary of the allied victories in Palestine that led to the liberation of all the Arab territories, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and the Arabian peninsula too, from the Ottoman Empire.

It was a campaign in which an Anzac division and a New Zealand mounted brigade played a prominent part, especially in the battle for Gaza and by occupying the port of Jaffa. Once those supply points were taken, Jerusalem was surrendered without a shot. Neither British nor German and Turk high commands wanted to fight in the holy city of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Fighting with the British Army were peninsula Arab tribes who joined the allies with much the same nationalist aspirations that came to the fore in all the crumbling empires of the axis. But just as the desert warriors were driving the Ottoman forces out of Palestine, European Jews in London were pressing the British Government to answer their aspirations for a Jewish nation in their biblical promised land.

The Balfour Declaration was issued two days after the allies took Gaza. It said, "Her Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", but added a proviso, "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".


It sounds a little like the Treaty of Waitangi. Living up to it might be just as hard. Like Māori, Palestinians need more than its literal meaning in English. They need recognition as a proud, self-determining people in their own right. All Islamic nations understand that.

Islam has now become the essence of an Arab identity and young adherents have turned it into a deadly means of asserting their identity on the world. Lacking military power, they are using mass murder and martyrdom to give meaning to their existence.

They resent Israel but not, I think, because it is Jewish. They see Israel as a European creation, a "crusader" state. America's crucial support of Israel today tells them they are still in the Middle Ages, not entirely unreasonable when you read the beliefs of the "Christians" who vote for Donald Trump.

Sooner or later, surely, the Middle East will get a Gorbachev or a Mandela. But the way it's going, it could take another 70 years.