Little of my Middle East work made it into this blog in the past - partly by design, partly by accident. But it's time to start crossing the streams a little more. So here are a few things I've been involved in over the last couple of years on that front - mainly around Israel/Palestine & Iraq.
Things are coming to a crux right now in the region. The horror of it all - over a hundred thousand dead, almost 4 million new refugees, civil war fostered in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, incalculable damage in the human heart.......... I think in 2007, we'll know whether we can turn the tide, or whether the abyss is opening. If I have time I'll dig out the text of my Oxford Peace Lecture at the end of 2006, in which I frightened myself by looking at it altogether, and share it with you here. I'm not going back to activism on a whim.
April 2005 - we hold a meeting in the English countryside with Israelis, Palestinians and internationals, entitled rather presciently ISRAEL-PALESTINE: WHAT FUTURE FOR THE TWO PEOPLES? Confronting the Obstacles to a Viable Peace. Report here. We appear to have predicted both Kadima and the rise of Hamas, if not every detail of the intervening period - and this quote holds true today, with the rider that the stakes have been raised even further in the last two years, the clock stands at ten to midnight, and all parties - the international community included - may finally be compelled to act:
"It is clear that the centres of gravity are shifting in each society, and new possibilities are emerging. The new Israeli consensus [around disengagement] and the [post-Arafat] Palestinian landscape suggest the worldviews of the parties may be diverging from the well-known principles of negotiated peace. In its present alignment, the “new deck of cards” above contains a gloomy picture in which a viable peace is nowhere to be seen. But creative thinking can reveal fresh or long-ignored opportunities. The roundtable focused in particular on developments in Israeli and Palestinian politics and on the implications of a Palestinian state with provisional borders, before considering how a different dynamic could be generated..."In May 2005, as I blogged here, Vote4Peace helped elect almost two-thirds of our pro-peace MPs from different parties in the UK. It's a long slow battle.
Toward the end of 2005 Oxford Research Group asked me at no notice to pull together a big report on Iraq, with input from a range of senior retired and serving people - military, political, diplomats, spooks, civil society, US, Iraqi, British and from the wider Middle East and Europe. The outcome - "Iraqi Liberation: Toward an Integrated Strategy" was more theirs than mine. A foreword by Air Marshal Tim Garden, Prince El-Hassan of Jordan and General David Ramsbotham. Plenty of media applause. An article by El-Hassan in the Telegraph calling for phased withdrawal and inclusion as part of a regional strategy - "Only the horror of an all-out civil war, with perhaps a million more dead, could bring an uncertain end by arms to this ongoing tragedy." But the fact that we got it right leaves a bitter taste in my mouth today, because we didn't get the message through, and look at where we are now, and how many more are dead or have lost everything, how many more will.
Baker-Hamilton's Iraq Study Group took our report as input, though it quailed from our internationalism -- and it too failed. A senior British diplomat was detailed in November 2005 to tell us that talking to Iran and Syria would be worse than pointless. The same man was quoted a year later reaching out to them. It may be too late. Things have momentum.
We are over the edge of the precipice.
We have to face up to what we've done, and take steps to change - and that means fundamentally transforming not just strategy but disposition, and making some big symbolic moves from this summer.
Too many other things to mention on this front right now - I'll try to trickle them through Gathering here - but I should mention "From Crisis to Opportunity - Inclusive Approaches to the Arab-Israeli Conflict", a big EU-supported programme of research, dialogue and initiatives I put together with a few eminent colleagues, notably the dangerously brilliant Mark Perry. It's getting underway now. Starting with the realities......................... getting creative with the possibilities.