Monday, October 29, 2007

Alan Johnston's answers

Alan Johnston is a BBC reporter who was held hostage in Gaza for 114 days. On the BBC website he answers readers questions in (what seems to me) quite a fair, honest and evenhanded way.

Of course his kidnapping led him to a higher opinion of Palestinians in general (it was only the hostage takers themselves who weren't very nice, and some of them were almost embarrassed about it), and he sees a lot of good in the Palestinian people (which is reasonable, because there is). He also thinks that the Jewish claim to Israel is purely a religious one, and seems to ignore history, international resolutions and the persecution that ultimately led to the State.

But he has quotes like this, which IMHO show a better understanding of the conflict, and the likelihood of peace, than many of our politicians seem to have (and may I take this opportunity to wish our Prime Minister a Refuah Shleima - but couldn't you at least have used it as an excuse to avoid Annapolis?).

Q: How has your experience shaped your views on the Palestinian problem? Do you think there is a solution?
John Craig, Glasgow

For a century or more, this has been a dispute over the control of the narrow strip of land that stretches from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. If the Israelis were to withdraw from every inch of occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians would be left with about 22% percent of that land. The Israelis would have 78% percent.

Every time you see an American president sit down with the two sides to talk peace, the question is largely about how much of that 22% the Palestinians should be allowed to have - and under what conditions.

I tend to feel that the Israelis will never really give enough - or be forced by their American friends to give enough. And for at least some angry young Palestinians, 22% could never be enough. They would want to fight on for much more.

I think that they would be hard to rein in, and in the poverty, despair and oppression of the occupation, the ranks of the radicals are only likely to grow.

Set against that, most people on both sides do want an end to the conflict - a settlement that might allow their children to live in peace and prosper. So, perhaps there is hope - "God willing", as they say in Palestine.

Read the full piece on the BBC website

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