Bronwen Maddox introduces the August issueby Bronwen Maddox / July 18, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
There is a temptation common to foreign correspondents immersed in a region of agonised turmoil: to believe that they are witnessing events that, even in the bloodiest way, represent some kind of progress. Tom Phillips does not suffer from that affliction. He retired in July after two years as British ambassador to Saudi Arabia and, previously, four years as ambassador to Israel. His conclusion is that there may never be peace between Israel and Palestinians. Neither side has leaders capable of making a deal; the window for a “two-state solution” may already have closed, because of Israeli settlement building on the West Bank and demographic changes; he can envisage no other route to peace.
This is a stunningly bleak conclusion from one who has been professionally committed to trying to advance a solution. But he is right to say it. The reminder that permanent failure is an option—“the most likely outcome,” in his view—is a retort to those leaders whose instinct is to kick negotiations perpetually down the road in search of a sliver more advantage, or to avoid the immediate sacrifice of a deal. They should look head-on at the implications if there is no deal, ever.
Not everyone agrees. George Mitchell, Democratic powerbroker in the US Senate for years, and former special envoy to both Northern Ireland and the Middle East, has built a career out of the conviction that the world’s worst problems can be solved by face-to-face negotiation. He acknowledges that in 60-odd years in the Middle East, the talking cure has not yet prevailed. But he was behind the 1998 Good Friday agreement, useful supporting evidence for his belief, even if some of the deal’s architects, including Tony Blair, accepted compliments too readily for having fashioned a model for resolving all kinds of sectarian conflict.