By Geoffrey Paul
September 8, 2011
I have always believed – sometimes, admittedly, in desperation – that what opponents, enemies even, address to each other in public does not truly reflect the life-and-death stuff of which they talk in private. Lives really depend upon this hidden intercourse. I am not sure of this any more, after ten hours this week spent in the company in London of old-hand Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. It became frighteningly clear after only a short while that they were not talking to each other. They were talking past each other. The Israelis talk, as they must, about security in depth. The Palestinians talk, as they must, about the degree of self-determination they require. A senior Arab spokesman insisted that , in Mahmoud Abbas, Israel now had an opportunity of negotiating with the most pragmatic Palestinian leader they were ever likely to encounter. The Israelis insisted that Abbas spoke for just a fragment of Palestine and that there was that other element, Hamas, which was sworn never to accept a Jewish State.The Palestinians spoke about a need for Israel to accept , at least in principle, the right of Palestinians to return to their former homes. The Israelis spoke about a need for the Palestinians to accept, absolutely, that Israel be recognised as the national state and home of the Jewish people. Sir Malcolm Rifkind told a joke (and he does not have great recognition as a joker): The Israelis and the Arabs sent a delegation to God. “God,” they said. “will there ever be peace between us.” And God replied: “Yes, my children, there will be peace between you – but not in My lifetime!.” It was hard to disagree.