John Kerry's Middle East 'talks': Peace is not made through pantomime

Today’s meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators has a clear element of staging

Share
Related Topics

Who doesn’t like a spectacle?

We shake our heads, of course, and groan when we hear about the latest theatrics of a showman politician like Robert Mugabe. We flinch when he tells his opponents, as he did on Monday,  to “go hang”. But is there something in us that almost enjoys the crude entertainment value such play-actors bring to the dull, dreary real world of slowly improving lives, taking difficult decisions and righting injustice?

The sound of a pantomime president calling his critics “dogs” and “pigs” and threatening to leave the flesh of his enemies rotting in the garbage – as the now seven-times Zimbabwean leader did in his first speech since being re-elected – will always win our attention, although we’re probably missing the real significance of what’s going on backstage in Harare. That’s why they do it, of course.

Every time the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his 15 minutes at the microphone in the UN General Assembly to make an ignorant remark about the Holocaust – destined less for Israel than for a segment of his divided domestic audience – our diplomats marched out of the room to show the full extent of their disgust, thus guaranteeing him even bigger headlines. In acting shocked, they too, were playing a rehearsed role, achieving nothing, but sending the signal expected of them.

On the face of it, events in Jerusalem today – when Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will sit down together formally, three years after the collapse of the last such negotiations and a full 20 years after the Oslo accords were initially signed – should be the very opposite of such theatre. Here, finally, are the first, tiniest fruits of slow, painful diplomacy at work. It is, we are told, a parallel with Northern Ireland, when Tony Blair and his counterparts in the Irish Republic eventually got to grips with the intractable details of that epic conflict for long enough to make a difference.

Today’s meeting has an unmistakeable element of staging, of the theatrics that our democratically-elected leaders know they must deliver. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been applauded for seeking to draw Israelis and Palestinians back to the table after years of nothing but betrayal and lost lives. And much has been made of his uncynical dedication to the cause and of his shuttling back and forth from Washington to the region to unlock the stalemate at a time when his wife has been seriously ill.

Yet to present, once again, the resumption of direct negotiations as if there is an equivalence between two evenly-matched “sides”, as if both parties must match respective “concessions”, is dishonest. Not only are the Palestinians in a profoundly weaker situation, but we also know that to imagine Israel ending its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, or the US pulling the plug on its support for Israel unless it agrees to budge on settlements, is fanciful.

Both those things would have to happen if the Palestinians are to have enough of their own land left to create a viable state. So scant is the good faith on offer from Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of talks that he has announced an expansion of more than 900 new homes in illegal East Jerusalem settlements on Tuesday, on top of the additional 1,200 in East Jerusalem and the West Bank set out at the weekend.  Again, this is about choreographing messages: Bibi can’t be seen to release 100 or so Palestinian prisoners under American pressure without a quid pro quo.

The US and its allies, meanwhile, have an urgent interest in seeing the Middle East problem resolved and peace restored via the creation of a Palestinian state. But even this does not appear to trump President Obama’s reluctance to stand up to Israel over settlements. Mr Kerry was quick to reassure all sides yesterday that the new housing decision was “somewhat expected” and would not have any bearing on the talks.

So why go through the motions? Why create the illusion of a peace process rolling merrily forwards again after so many years in the sand if no such thing is happening or likely to happen, despite the fact that the shape (“contours”, as diplomatic parlance prefers) of the best possible resolution was outlined under the Clinton administration as long ago as 2002?

For John Kerry and Barack Obama there are, of course, legacy issues. The Israeli Prime Minister and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, are both fearful of isolation. So, after a long dearth of activity, all sides agree to resume “talks”. The trouble, though, is that convening very publicly-flagged negotiations and raising expectations is worse than empty symbolism if the basis for any fair outcome is absent from the outset. Surely it would be better to keep negotiations below the radar until some clear incremental progress is underway.

The mere existence of the resumed  “peace process” risks becoming the end in itself and as long as the protagonists can send the message they want – that they are “engaged in talks” –  they have an excuse to do little else. And that is a piece of theatre those who have suffered so much from this conflict could do without.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Pharmacuetical

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Real Staffing, one of the UK'...

Associate Recruitment Consultant - IT

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise  

The UK economy may be back on track, but ordinary people are still being left behind

James Moore
The Independent journalist James Moore pictured outside Mile End underground station in east London  

The true cost of being disabled goes far beyond just the physical

James Moore
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform