I wouldn't start from here ...


This is my second attempt to offer some reflections on the current state of play in Middle East. The title is a quote from an old joke about asking for directions in Ireland and, visiting Israel/Palestine for what is now the fifth time in ten years, I increasingly get the feeling that everyone involved wants to start the process from anywhere but here. SOme want to return to 1967 or 1948, the 1947 UN partition plan or even 1917 and pre-Balfour Declaration. The thing is that we only get to start from here and now and that's the problem.

As I said previously, no-one now talks of the two-state solution seriously because it ceased to be viable about ten years ago. Not that it would have provided the sort of panacea that many predicted. Let's face it, other two-state solutions - India/Pakistan; Sudan/South Sudan; Ireland and Korea - are not exactly going incredibly well.

The focus therefore now shifts to what sort of one-state solution is possible, practicable and desirable. Again, there are any number of models on offer, some more palatable than others, from a devolved system like the UK, to US federalism, Swiss cantonisation or the two-entities approach in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Chances are that none of these will work and something unique will have to be constructed. The problem is that noone really wants to think about it.

During my most recent stay, I got into a number of conversations with Palestinian folk who talked about the need for more 'international pressure'. But they not only want pressure applied but also a solution imposed. Of course, this is what happened in the Bosnian conflict and, to a large degree, in post-Saddam Iraq. The Dayton Peace Accords were imposed on the Balkan leaders and hold to this this day. But what we know about Dayton is that has failed to embed and has led to, at best, an uneasy peace which will erupt again in violence as soon as international presence is removed. Maybe that is better than nothing. But the best peace proceses involve an internally-brokered peace deal that is then cemented by international pressure. A bit like my beautiful palestinian pottery which shattered in my suitcase on the way back to the UK. Whilst it remains in pieces, any pressure will simply increase fragmentation - only once I have applied glue and rearranged the pieces can external pressure become useful.

There is no easy route to peace, justice and reconciliation from the current mess, but starting from here is all we get.

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