Diplomacy is not doing well in the latest swirl of international crisis. The shells and rockets fall on Gaza, despite pleas for a “humanitarian pause” to let aid in for stricken families. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin this week officially ditches the nuclear test ban and conventional forces treaties.
Antony Blinken has wound up his third round of shuttling round the Middle East with the less-than-confident verdict that the bid to get a temporary pause in hostilities to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza is “still a work in progress”.
Why has diplomacy had such little effect in the four weeks of crisis since the psychopathic attack by Hamas ultras on Israeli villages and kibbutzim close to Gaza on October 7? The Netanyahu administration has listened to the US and assorted allies, and not taken their advice, though welcomed their cash and arms.
The Netanyahu administration has listened to the US and assorted allies, and not taken their advice, though welcomed their cash and arms
Apart from the hard-headed politics of self-interest across the region, diplomacy stutters, for other 21st-century reasons. First, so much of the lingo of the diplomats, and the commentariat, seems oddly quaint. There is talk of “rights to defend oneself and one’s people”, “proportionality” and “equivalence”. These suggest that retaliation for an unwarranted act of aggression, like the October 7 pogrom, should be “in proportion”. Alongside this there is an idea that there is “equivalence” in damage to one lot of civilians in redress for an attack on another. These are notions that are out of step with the times.
Leaders and fixers should not dwell on history (an uncertain guide), but must focus on what is unique in the present.
Right now, it’s clear the war aims set by Israel and the maximalist Arab dominance dreamed by Hamas are unachievable. Whatever the present inadequacies of diplomatic language to capture the motivations of either side, Arabs and Jews will live in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean and they will need that language soon so they can talk, to, at and not past each other.
Robert Fox is the Evening Standard’s defence editor