Our envoy has come back to tell us how his Middle East peacemaking is getting on. As there's so much at stake, let's put cynicism aside. Trying to get Israel and Palestine to lie down peacefully is heroic of Tony Blair. It's an even more ambitious task than his other endeavour – to reconcile, through his foundation, the world's religions. Britain's certainly got talent.
He has maps and facts and projects for peace, tourism, sewage, economic growth, and democracy. He has taken stock of the situation out there. He has looked at the checkpoints, the settlements, the villages and industrial estates. He knows all the structures, the strictures, the officials, the officers. He has talked to them all, seen each side of every question.
And what's the upshot, or the outcome? What does he think?
Well, it's all very difficult obviously. In broad terms, you've got Palestinians and then there's the state of Israel. Each side has "a reality problem" you see. But ultimately, "if people really want to sort it out, they'll sort it out". Reasonable people with modern attitudes will need to isolate the extremists. That would do it. And while it's complex on one level it's simple on another. If, for instance, people decided "to go the Ghandi route" non-violence "would change the dynamic overnight". Maybe more quickly; before bedtime, according to optimists in the press gallery.
But which side was being unreasonable? Clearly, Tony couldn't say anything about that because "seeing the other point of view" is the essence of a "credible process".
So yes, there were illegal settlements being raised on Palestinian land. And yes, Palestinians were bombing Israel from Gaza, and yes villagers weren't allowed permits to rebuild their houses while outposts were springing up in the hills above them, and...
The problems were well-aired. But what of progress?
Was anything said yesterday to suggest he'd made any of that? Not... as such. Not progressive progress going forward. Though we can't be absolutely sure because, "at certain points in a peace process ambiguity can be helpful".
Eventually, they managed to corner him and presented him with a direct question. What had to come first: Israel ending illegal settlements, or Palestinians abjuring violence?
He said (in full): "at the very least what you cannot have is, pending the outcome of the negotiation, for the facts on the ground to be shifted against making a Palestinian settlement even harder to negotiate".
I think that meant: "No." Depending on what the question was again. It must be very hard to keep at this hopeless, thankless, entirely dispensable job.
Or maybe it's a live audition for the role of EU president – to emerge unvilified by either side from the most quarrelsome region on earth. That's quite a new talent Britain's got. We've never had that before.Reuse content