It’s been just about a hundred years since the “West” (at the time, the “victors” of World War I) enacted a solution that caused more problems that it ever solved. Britain, France, America, we all got in the game and divided the Middle East into countries that suited our notions – and ignored centuries of history and habitation. The war’s over, they have their land – what could go wrong?
Hindsight can be 20/20, and when deployed with the grace and economy found in A Path to Peace: A Brief History of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East, by George J. Mitchell and Alon [pronounced “alone”] Sachar, it can be revelatory. In this case, brevity is your friend. Mitchell and Sachar dig in and serve up a remarkably complicated history in a tight narrative. The upshot is to make perfectly clear the policies and events that have turned one of the central sources for spirituality in this world into a hot zone of continuous conflict.
The writing here is as crisp and precise as you might hope for from the best of our greatest diplomats. The unending terror and violence, in context, are comprehensible even as they set back the peace process. The authors show a thorough understanding of all sides in the conflict, and their recommendations are low-key and do-able – with a will to peace.
Make no mistake. This is not going to be easy; the authors write, however, with a hopeful feeling that goes a long way towards making compromise thinkable and attractive. The authors clearly believe that sacrifice is the best and bravest path forward. “We believe there must come a time when both parties are willing to take the painful and politically difficult steps that will be necessary to reach an agreement.”
For all the disharmony that surrounds us, the authors are quick to note that US Policy on the matter has remained the same through both Republican and Democratic presidencies. We are indeed the United States on this point. The most powerful aspect of this book is the quiet persistence embodied here. Both of these men have worked hard to bring about a change they may not see in their lifetimes. This book makes it easy for us to understand why, and share their hope.
Meeting these two men in person was the kind of honor that does not even get the proper air time during our conversation. I was quite happy to hear George Mitchell mention Scott Anderson’s Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East when we spoke. It’s the perfect follow-on to this book. And this book is the perfect follow-on to this conversation with George Mitchell and Alon Sachar together. Here’s a link to download the conversation. Or just listen below.