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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Chatham House and the prospect of peace talks

Went yesterday to an excellent event organised by OneVoice and Chatham House - an event that was so popular that I had to watch it on TV in the overflow room (that's a good thing, as it's great that so many people are prepared to turn up for a serious discussion about the Israeli/Palestinian peace process).

The discussion was between former Foreign Secretary David Miliband and former US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell; you can hear the whole thing here and watch a six-minute video clip here. At the event, Senator Mitchell said:
I said this to both Chairman Arafat and President Abbas - there is not a single piece of evidence you can show me that indicates the longer you wait, the offers are going to get better...They need to get in a room, sit down now, and negotiate an agreement.
He is right - Israel and the Palestinian Authority should get in a room and negotiate without preconditions, as Israel has agreed to do. The PA say they won't talk unless their preconditions regarding settlements are met first - no, they should go into talks and discuss settlements there. The Quartet (the UN, the EU, the US and Russia) is holding separate talks with Israel and the PA next week. That's got to be better than nothing - what is the alternative to talks? Tony Blair is right that we can't just say that just because it hasn't worked so far, there's no point trying. What is the alternative to trying? 

Also, what role is there for Jordan in the peace process, given that it has just had a change of government? Is it a hopeful sign that the new Prime Minister was a legal adviser to Jordan when it negotiated its peace treaty with Israel in 1994? He has said that he is open to participation in his government by Islamists, and one has to be very cautious about what that might mean in practice. Some people say that Jordan's Islamic Action Front is more 'liberal' than are other parts of the Muslim Brotherhood, but let's see what actually happens.

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