Friday, November 28, 2003

Israel/Palestine

I'm not particularly fond of writing about Israel/Palestine. Partly because the Left has a rather unsavory obsession with the issue. We don't hear too much complaint about Syria's occupation of Lebanon. And as for North Korea, the comparative silence is deafening.

There is much criticism aimed at Sharon, some justified. But Sharon is, in terms of Israel's fractured parliamentary system, one of the most secure Prime Ministers in recent times. This should not be seen as victory for Sharon but rather as a defeat for the Israeli Left who have been unable to convince the Israeli electorate that their security would be safeguarded in their hands.

Its hard to know what to make of the Geneva Accords. If it is simply a recognition that there are people of goodwill on both sides then it says nothing new. Perhaps it will change the dynamics of Israeli public opinion, convincing them that there is someone to negotiate with.

But, just as with the Oslo Accords, it would have to be put into practice. And magic wands are great in theory but tend not to work in the real world. So why would it work this time round? One major problem is that the politics involved is so complex. It does not take malicious intent for things to fall over, although of that there is ample.

One area that the Left might look at for some fresh ideas is evolutionary psychology. Trust is a complicated thing for humans. We spend a great deal of time and energy working out how much we can trust someone. In disputes such as Israel/Palestine a lot of the difficulty is not that people are necessarily bad but that the mechanisms available for communicating intent, for establishing trust, are so complex that the probability of failure is high.

One of the features of the Oslo Accords were the "trust building" mechanisms which are now considered to have contributed to its failure. The phased implementation over time with each side meeting its obligations in turn gave too much opportunity for things to go wrong.

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