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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Here we go again - peace process revs up a gear

Lots of media report that Prime Minister Netanyahu has made a big shift in policy towards the position of President Obama, when it comes to the vexed question of Israel's eventual borders with a putative Palestinian state. In other words, we're heading for another of those periods of fevered activity in the Israel/Palestine peace process, when the breathless 24-hour media will rush to report every detail of who has said what to whom when, before it dies down and we all move on to the next thing again. I am a strong believer in the possibility that something can and will be achieved - that, in the foreseeable future, a viable Palestinian state will be created to co-exist with a secure State of Israel. However, experience has taught me to be sceptical of the transformative effects of what appear at first glance to be major breakthroughs.

The latest news from Israel, Gaza and the West Bank acts as a reminder of the benefits to both sides of finally achieving peace. Although, to be more positive, have a look at Mr Netanyahu's Ramadan message to the Muslim world and this story about a Jerusalem museum that is working to bring Israeli and Arab artists together. 

Crucially, however, it must be remembered that the conflict is not remotely Israel's biggest news story at the moment; that honour goes to the demonstrations taking place on cost-of-living issues including housing. Imagine a domestic news story as big as Murdoch/phone-tapping or MPs' expenses, and you've got a flavour of the impact of these demonstrations in Israel at the moment. Israel's pre-state establishment was dominated by socialists who, through the Labour Party, headed every Israeli government from the state's creation in 1948 until 1977. Today, Labour has only eight of the 120 seats in Israel's Parliament, with Mr Netanyahu (both as Finance Minister and as Prime Minister) having 'reformed' Israel's economy on a Thatcherite model. Israel actually has a very strong, high-tech economy; do these demonstrations suggest a return to the 'social solidarity' values that were key to Israel's founders' vision?

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