A simple choice: live together in peace or in a permanent state of war

Share

Tuesday's agreement between Israelis and Palestinians in Sharm el-Sheikh is welcome, but it is no more than the absolute minimum that had to be achieved. Failure would have led to renewed and perhaps even bloodier turmoil; it would have heightened the risk of a general Arab-Israeli conflagration and increased uncertainty in the oil markets, with all that that implies for the health of Western economies. For all those reasons, failure was unthinkable.

Tuesday's agreement between Israelis and Palestinians in Sharm el-Sheikh is welcome, but it is no more than the absolute minimum that had to be achieved. Failure would have led to renewed and perhaps even bloodier turmoil; it would have heightened the risk of a general Arab-Israeli conflagration and increased uncertainty in the oil markets, with all that that implies for the health of Western economies. For all those reasons, failure was unthinkable.

But President Clinton's latest exercise in knocking heads together will have produced, at best, a ceasefire. For even that to hold, it will have to be accepted by extremists on both sides on the ground; the initial reaction of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, that it would not be bound by the deal, is an ominous pointer.

Details of what has been agreed are scant. Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister, and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have pledged to halt the violence that has claimed more than 100 lives over the last three weeks; they have decided to set up a US-led fact-finding committee to study the causes of that violence; and they have agreed to explore a restart of wider peace negotiations. In other words, a resurrection of the seven-year-old Oslo peace process, which, after the failure of July's summit at Camp David and the mayhem in the West Bank and Gaza this autumn, had seemed dead in all but name.

No timetables have been set for a ceasefire to come into force, or for the withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the main flashpoints. Conceivably, this is an encouraging sign. Perhaps Mr Barak and President Arafat have given in private firmer commitments than they dared make public in the present explosive climate. Perhaps Mrs Albright's claim that a truce would come into effect "within hours" will prove correct.

Cold logic alas suggests an opposite conclusion. The understanding was vague because it could not be otherwise, because even Mr Clinton, for all his gifts of cajolement and compromise, could extract no more. As it is, despite the involvement of Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, in the inquiry, Mr Arafat has failed to secure the fullscale international investigation, refusal of which by the Israelis led him to abandon an earlier summit with Mr Barak this month. The Israeli Prime Minister, for his part, awaits an unequivocal call from Mr Arafat, which Israel - rightly or wrongly - insists could turn off the Palestinian protests like a tap.

But assume there is an immediate ceasefire. That would merely rewind the clock to 28 September, when Ariel Sharon, the leader of the hardline Likud opposition, made his blatantly provocative visit to the Islamic holy places on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Even then attempts to reach the elusive final status agreement were hopelessly deadlocked on the problem of Jerusalem; that deadlock is today, if anything, even more complete.

So, at best, a cooling-off period first, in which the domestic political supports of two weak leaders can be strengthened. Then, if a minimum of trust can be rebuilt, a resumption of longer-term peacemaking. The bottom line remains unchanged. Geography and history condemn Israelis and Palestinians to live together - either in peace or in permanent quasi-war. Just possibly, the agreement at Sharm el-Sheikh was a grudging acceptance that the first option is preferable.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice