By Paul Goodman
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As I've written before, the significance of the Israel-Palestine conflict is grotesquely over-hyped. Orthodoxy holds that solving it is the key to peace in the middle east – an error that the tumult in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Bahrain and elsewhere during the past year has helped to expose. The most insidious threat in the region – Iran's push for nuclear weapons, which threatens a Saudi response and a regional arms race – has nothing much to do with Israel: it is driven by national pride and religious ambitions in the emerging Shi'ite-Sunni conflict which is one of the great underwritten stories of British journalism.
Indeed, coverage of the region is poor and patchy, obsessed by Israel-Palestine to the exclusion of nearly everything else. The panjandrums of the BBC are flown out to pronounce on events when they become too momentous for even domestic journalism to ignore – such as last year's inital revolts in Tahrir Square – and then flown back again while the action continues. So it came about that there was very little reporting of the monster rally in Cairo, which took place shortly after the fall of Mubarak, in which the masses were addressed by the extremist Islamist preacher Yusuf Al Qaradawi. None the less, a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conundrum would be both just and good – the only fair answer to a gnawing problem.
Israel's greatest failure has been weak government failing to rein in the settlers; the Palestinians' has been the history of rejectionism embodied in Hamas. Would the recognition of a state of Palestine make a two-state solution more likely? The Conservative Party is divided over Israel/Palestine but, as Tim indicated last weekend, the judgement of Tory foreign office ministers is that the answer is no, because the Palestinians would conclude from recognition that they don't need negotiations to advance their aims, and Israel would most likely be the subject of a wave of legal actions from the new state – thus retarding talks even further.
The Liberal Democrats have a recent history of being less fastidious. The party's opposition to the Iraq War improved the acquaintance of its MPs with some of the worst elements in British Islamism – Simon Hughes's support for some having a role in Parliament being one of the most egregious examples. No wonder the Times reports today that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have clashed over the issue, as Barak Obama responds to a bid whose implications he was slow to see. The paper claims that Clegg has told Cameron that he is "being too cautious by resisting greater recognition for Palestine".
Cameron has also consulted Tony Blair, a move unlikely to provide universal reassurance. It's not hard to see where all this is heading. Obama is committed to vetoing the Palestinian gambit in the UN Security Council. Cameron won't want to offend Obama. Clegg won't want to cross his party. If it comes to a Security Council vote, we are moving towards that bold response, an abstention. And if the UN General Assembly votes to recognise a state of Palestine, much of British journalism will exhaust dictionaries of hyperbole – after which business in the Middle East will continue as usual.