Magazine article The Spectator

Trimble and Barak

Magazine article The Spectator

Trimble and Barak

Article excerpt

There was a time when the future of the planet seemed to hang on these Arab-Israeli talks at Camp David, and when they collapsed we all used to have the vapours. Woe to the world, we used to cry. The Israelis are being intransigent again! Arafat's in a huff. A shattered president announces that he tried, oh boy, he tried. There was a time when this used to mean a hike in the oil price and hijacks and tension at airports; and now, well, did you wake up in a cold sweat on Wednesday morning?

The disaster is comfortably knocked off the front pages by an airline crash; an interesting one, admittedly; a particularly awful and symbolic crash, but still a statistical inevitability. One reason, clearly, why the Arab-Israeli conflict does not grip us in the old way is that the Cold War is over. It used to be that the Russians were aligned behind the Palestinians, and the Americans were aligned behind the Israelis, and one did not need much imagination to see it turning into a superpower conflict. That fear has gone, and there seems no particular reason to be pessimistic about the eventual prospects of a deal.

Perhaps Mr Clinton will not now go down in history as a peacemaker, and it is very hard to see how the outstanding problems could be reconciled by 13 September, the date by which Arafat has said he will declare an independent Palestinian state. But it cannot be beyond the wit of man to find a formula which would allow the Palestinians in some sense to think they had gained more control over East Jerusalem, while ensuring that Israel kept control of the Wailing Wall.

There is the huge problem of the refugees, the survivors and, descendants of the 700,000 Palestinians who were expelled after the founding of Israel in 1948. Shall they be allowed to return en masse? No, says Israel, since that could mean Israel was no longer really a Jewish state. But perhaps that problem, too, could be solved by a generous lubrication of American money.

As we screw up our eyes and gaze into the future, we cannot help but think that in due time there will be a `solution', and that solution will be called peace. In a sense, of course, it will be an immoral peace, if and when it comes. Ehud Barak has been talking in Camp David to a terrorist, or at least to a man whose organisation, the PLO, has sponsored and conducted innumerable acts of terror. And in that respect we can make some limited analogies with the `peace process' taking place in our own country.

Barak might be compared to Trimble, the majority leader going ahead of his supporters and taking great risks for the sake of a deal. …

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