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Peter Millett

Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli

Part of UK in Jordan

23rd January 2012

Give Peace a Chance

As has been widely reported, King Abdullah has succeeded in bringing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators together for the first time in 16 months. They have held three meetings in Amman choreographed by Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Comments in the international press have seen a wide range of optimism, pessimism and cynicism.  It’s easy to be pessimistic and say that nothing will come of it.  I prefer realism: no-one should pretend that reaching a deal is easy.  It’s eluded negotiators for years.  But as the King himself has said, it’s better to talk than not to.

Conflict resolution is both a science and an art.  There are certain obvious principles that should be followed.  But they need to be adapted to circumstances.  What is important is that the end goal is kept in sight.  The Palestinians have a right to a state.  And Israel has a right to security.  The two objectives are inter-linked: the best guarantee of Israel’s security is through peace with a Palestinian state.

What are the basic factors for resolving conflict?  Here’s my top five:

  • Mutual respect and trust:  unless the negotiators trust each other, progress will not be made.  I can’t count how many times both sides have proclaimed that “It takes two to tango.”  That’s no doubt true, but the only way you’ll find out is by getting onto the dance floor.
  • Compromise: any gain for one side is seen as a loss for the other. This is completely counter-productive. Any solution will require a balanced set of compromises. Give and take by both sides is essential.
  • No threats or violent actions: as Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”
  • Avoid the blame game: playing to the international gallery is attractive but it holds back constructive compromise.  It is good news that both sides have agreed to radio silence with the media.  They should stick to it.
  • People-to-people contact: top level representatives can negotiate but it has to be underpinned by trust between people. If people are not permitted or discouraged from meeting each other, then it will be very hard to convince them that the risk is worth it.

That’s the theory.  And of course it’s been tried before.  The history of the Middle East Peace Process is littered with special envoys, initiatives and agreements.  Little has been achieved on the ground.  The reasons are well-known.  So why try again now?

The fact is that the current situation is stark and deeply worrying: if settlement building continues a two-state solution will be impossible.  The international community regularly condemns settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. The British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week called settlement building “deliberate vandalism”.  And settler violence against Palestinian villages and mosques is growing.

Peace is not an easy option – it requires greater bravery than war. Perhaps the most important quality needed at all levels is courage and determination. I recall a quote: “Conflict is inevitable; combat is optional.”

We all know that compromise is hard.  For political leaders it means courting unpopularity and sparking accusations of betrayal and treason.  It’s easy to camp out on nationalistic slogans and pander to extremists.  It’s much harder to live up to your own rhetoric and make the hard decisions to reach the objective that the silent majority probably favour.

Many of these principles were deployed with success in Northern Ireland in the last 10 years.  Of course the circumstances are different, but the fact is that leaders and communities whose positions were miles apart are now sharing power.  To achieve that result both sides had to realise that violence wouldn’t work and that a solution would bring peace and economic benefits all round.

It can be done.

1 comment on “Give Peace a Chance

  1. Dear Mr.Peter Millet, I do full agree to your basic facts.But please let me add some remarks of mine to your listed “Top 5”:1st.: Both sides must also have the truly wish to live in a “Two-States-Solution”.Especially these “Hardliners”.
    2nd.:It looks to me at the moment that no side is accepting a compromise.Cause they don ‘t trust to each other.
    3rd.: Violent Actions. Of course, it would be really great if both sides would stop this kind of actions. But they don ‘t.
    4th.: Top level representatives can negotiate with each other.But they should need the full support of the people, which they are representing. Don ‘t get me wrong: I also believe, that peace according to this “Roadmap to peace” is possible.But it takes time. BW, Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart

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About Peter Millett

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as Ambassador to Libya. Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015. He was High Commissioner to…

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as
Ambassador to Libya.
Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015.
He was High Commissioner to Cyprus from 2005 – 2010.
He was Director of Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
from 2002-2005, dealing with all aspects of security for British
diplomatic missions overseas.
From 1997-2001 he served as Deputy Head of Mission in Athens.
From 1993-96 Mr Millett was Head of Personnel Policy in the FCO.
From 1989-93 he held the post of First Secretary (Energy) in the UK
Representative Office to the European Union in Brussels, representing
the UK on all energy and nuclear issues.
From 1981-1985 he served as Second Secretary (Political) in Doha.
Peter was born in 1955 in London.  He is married to June Millett and
has three daughters, born in 1984, 1987 and 1991.  
His interests include his family, tennis and travel.