There is an absence of leadership on all sides in the Middle East crisis

Share

For the dwindling band who still believe that Arabs and Israelis can behave rationally towards each other, this first year of the new millennium has tested that faith to breaking point. First, President Assad, stubborn to the end, prevented a peace agreement between Israel and Syria by rejecting a deal on the Golan Heights that would have given him 99 per cent of what he wanted.

For the dwindling band who still believe that Arabs and Israelis can behave rationally towards each other, this first year of the new millennium has tested that faith to breaking point. First, President Assad, stubborn to the end, prevented a peace agreement between Israel and Syria by rejecting a deal on the Golan Heights that would have given him 99 per cent of what he wanted.

Then, at the Camp David summit, Yasser Arafat did not dare to accept even a framework agreement for a final peace after Ehud Barak had offered more than any Israeli leader had ever offered before; so much indeed that in the process he destroyed his own coalition in the Knesset. And finally, we witnessed the calculated provocation of a visit by Ariel Sharon, the Israeli politician most loathed by the Palestinians, to the Islamic holy places in Jerusalem - a provocation that detonated the latest violence, exactly as Mr Sharon surely knew it would.

Now, some 100 deaths later, a mighty troop of would-be peacemakers has descended upon the region. The cast includes the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Russian Foreign Minister and our own Robin Cook - well-meaning men all, but ultimately impotent, mouthing the same pleas and platitudes as in countless crises past, still evoking that much abused, all but departed shade once called the "peace process".

Matters, to use Kofi Annan's massive understatement, have been "complicated" by the lynching yesterday of the two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah by a Palestinian mob, an event as unsurprising as it was appalling, drawing the equally unsurprising reprisals by the Israelis, and completely eclipsing Mr Annan's modest and hard-won success earlier in securing agreement on a meeting of security officials from both sides.

So what next? The only good news is what is not happening: there is no sign of the war dragging in other Arab countries, no sign that Arab oil producers are contemplating a repeat of their 1973 embargo. But for the Palestinians, history's victims in this tragedy without end, that is scant comfort; merely another way of saying that, beyond demonstrations in Arab capitals and the florid rhetoric in which leaders specialise, they are on their own.

The indisputably bad news is the crying absence of leadership on all sides: an overwhelmed Israeli Prime Minister whose only strength now is the rallying of his people at a time of crisis; a Palestinian leader who, as Ramallah proves, has lost control of his frustrated people; and a lame-duck US President (and the two men vying to succeed him) taking - as American presidents always do when the chips are down - Israel's side in the argument.

The immediate hope can only be for a truce. This will inevitably be followed by a sullen stand-off, punctuated by more bouts of unrest, by attacks and reprisals, and perhaps by further terrorist incidents, of which the suicide attack against the US Navy warship in Yemen yesterday may be just a foretaste.

And then the tide will turn, as it always does. There will shortly be a new man in the White House. Sooner or later there will be new Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The realisation will dawn anew that compromise and peace are better than extremism, hatred and virtual war. First, however, trust must be rebuilt, a process that will take many months, if not years. For those who yet cling to a belief in the power of reason in Middle Eastern affairs, the wait will be unspeakably depressing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell