Focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict, both of the speakers at Chatham House suggested that the sense of optimism preceding the inauguration of President Obama and fall of the Olmert government, had first been put on hold due to the time taken to form a new Israeli coalition, and then lost following the IDF’s incursion into Gaza in 2009 and the new Israeli Government’s shift to the right.
Senator Mitchell also commented that, whilst there would continue to be substantial pressure on the international community to progress a solution to the conflict, this would remain difficult whilst dominant national interests within both Israel and Palestine fail to view compromise as their prime national interest.
Of note was the analysis of David Miliband that the recent moves by the President Abbas to gain official recognition at the UN, appeared to be an attempt to ensure that Palestine remained centre stage amidst coverage of the global financial crisis – and of course the Arab Spring. Here it was also interesting to gain the former UK Foreign Secretary’s thoughts that the real reason behind the sudden agreement on the release of Corporal Shalit by Hamas was more an attempt to regain media momentum from their estranged Westbank countrymen, rather than Israeli concessions on the prisoners that they were prepared to release.
Within the context of the Arab Spring it was notable how both speakers suggested that more of a focus should be placed on the Arab, rather than simply the Western Quartet, and the enormous importance of the intra-regional context in terms of effecting a practical resolution. Senator Mitchell commented that this would be difficult in the short term – with virtually all Middle East national actors currently “hunkering down” and waiting for new status quo to emerge.
Whist Senator Mitchell suggested that the only possibility of a resolution rested with the engagement of all parties in a “credible, democratic solution”, the fact remains that for an effective compromise to emerge, negotiations must surely be undertaken in both a culturally and contextually relative framework – perhaps somewhat at odds with current western conceptions. The conflict remains intractable enough without the added hindrance of weighty and often rigid western concepts – especially if they remain alien to a substantial proportion of protagonists. In a conflict where all sides search for excuses not to negotiate, it would appear prudent not to provide them both with yet another.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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