Martin Gilbert: Says Middle East on the brink of peace

Historians in the News

The state of Israel was founded 60 years ago, and its history since has been one of warfare with neighbours, regional strife and, too often, international opprobrium.
Israel has faced five wars in the past six decades -- and in this anniversary year, many have wondered if the future of the beleaguered state promises any more security and safety than its past has delivered.

But Sir Martin Gilbert, one of Britain's premier historians and longtime student of Israeli history, believes this is a uniquely promising time -- that the nation is on the brink of winning peace with a large part of the Palestinian people with whom it has disputed entitlement to the land on which it sits.

"I believe there is a new dynamic that seeks only peace for two peoples, a peace that Israelis and Palestinians have seemed on the brink of achieving several times -- and which, given enough will, may come now, and even quite soon."

Sir Martin, who is probably best known as the official biographer of Winston Churchill, has written about Israel and Jewish matters for four decades. He was in Ottawa this week to speak at the Ottawa International Writers Festival about the newly released second edition of his book, Israel: A History. The new edition includes two new chapters and an epilogue to cover events of the decade that has elapsed since the book was first published.

Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (the PA) nearly came to an agreement in 2000 at Camp David. Only last November, U.S. President George W. Bush convened 40 nations at the Annapolis Conference in Maryland, which marked the first time that a two-state solution was agreed upon as a solution to six decades of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Everyone -- the Israelis, the Palestinian Authority, the Americans, the Russians, the EU, the UN -- are all closely committed to it, and it's now just a matter of (Israeli president) Ehud Olmert and (PA president) Mahmoud Abbas coming to an agreement -- and they are 99.9 per cent of the way there," Sir Martin says.
Much of this has already been reported, but the public seems oddly skeptical that current developments will succeed any better than the myriad attempts of the past. Why is this so?
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