We are now weeks away from leaving the EU with a deal that hangs in the balance between an EU of 27 and a UK Parliament respectively approving and likely to reject the deal on the table. We were just as split then as we are now with Enoch Powell and Michael Foot waving the Commonwealth flag and the ‘No’ camp and Heath and Jenkins waving the ‘let’s join the European Community flag’ . It amazes me that we seem to have learnt nothing at all from the lessons of the past. Then like now Ted Heath did not involve within those negotiations the relevant sections of the Labour Party and the liberals whose continuing support was vital to get the deal through. He of course managed it as the parties were split such that the Yes camp then had an obvious majority in Parliament a least. But there was a vision then of swinging towards a genuine common market and against on the right our colonial past and on the left the doggedly pro-Soviet left. It was a real feeling of optimism and elation at this new found collaboration between nations who only 26 years before had been at war with each other. How quickly the sands of time obliterate the memories, as to many Europe had become an imperfect lair for the Euro cats.
Move on 36 years and we are reminded of Christopher Voss’s belief that the art of good negotiation isn’t simply about getting to ‘yes’ (as I was taught at mediation school), but its about mastering ‘no’ and understanding what the path to an agreement is. That may be about diametric opposites coming towerads the centre ground. So negotiating to opt out of Europe was always going to be an immensely complicated process that would inevitably involve the push me pull you effect of opposites; somehow there seemed to be no centre ground between the EU ‘no cherrypicking’ mantra and the ‘out means out’ bland leap of faith into the unknown by the arch Brexiteers – who never really believed that a compromise was possible anyway. Those arch negotiators like me looked on and only wished we had turned the clock back and reformed Europe from within.
Where pray was the consensus building that ought to have involved as many parties who believed in seeking a compromise between June 2016 and today; an apparent minority in a minority government negotiates a compromise deal without consulting the largest party in Northern Ireland; without consulting the opposition (whose current position on Europe appears ambivalent in any event); and all this shrouded in secrecy. The result may be if the runes prove correct, that the compromise meets nobody’s vision of a brighter future in or out of the EU. As a result the two opposing wings become more polarised than ever with the Lib Dems asking for my contribution towards the campaign to stay in, and the blue rinse brigade dreaming of a unilateral pull the plug. The baffled majority are somehwere in the middle of this visonless torrid mess thinking what possible way there might be to ensure our kids do have a future. There’s a compromise out there to be had and if tweeking what we have been offered and getting the sensible wing of labour to support it that might, just might build up a consensus that out as I said have been utilised way back in 2016. From an arch Remainer like me that’s compromise indeed.
I am sure most of us are concerned about the worldwide spread of extremism and vitriol making politics more polarised and the language of those in charge more fractious and partisan. I can say this of Israel’s realpolitik as much as Trump’s America, of the rise of far right politicians in Italy, Hungary and even Sweden, and of course closer to home we have witnessed the sorts of extremist views we see in the Brexit debate. The dreadful killings in Pittsburgh last Saturday are a worrying sign of increasing intolerance towards certain types just as much as the awful killing of 27 Muslim worshippers by Baruch Goldstein in the shared Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron back in 1994. It’s shocking to think that these perpetrators of pure evil become someone else’s heroes and then it goes on and on.
I was moved by this story in Time Magazine this week about one of the victims of the Pittsburgh massacre. Richard Gottfried was a dentist, father and someone who devoted a goodly amount of his time to helping refugees– a real supporter of what in Hebrew is called Tikkun Olam or ‘Healing the World’. This of course isn’t just a Jewish concept; it’s a common trait amongst all faiths and none. If tragic losses like this particular massacre, or the one in Hebron in 1994 or for that matter New York’s 9/11 – if these mean anything then it is the stories of lost goodness and kindness that should win out over hate and bigotry. Bringing extremes together or just bringing people together with very different world views brought about by living such separate lives, that should be our driver as mediators, and striving within our own communities towards a more tolerant and respectful consensus like I am sure Richard Gottfried did in his; like Parents Circle does in Israel – you cannot be but moved by the stories of lost loved ones in this video about parents who lost children killed by ‘the other side’ https://vimeo.com/58973193 – no-one else’s loss should be any more or less valued than our own as we all I am sure believe and respect the fact that we are all born equal and no-one by entitlement should consider they are born more equal than others on account of their race religion or creed. This reminds me of the sign outside a farm near Bethlehem
I do rather get saddened when people say that religion is the cause of the world’s problems. The essence of our humanity is innate in most faiths. The Lord’s prayer beckons us to forgive those that trespass against us. Islam and other religions are no different. So despite the awfulness of the Pittsburgh, defeating extremism and promoting what used to be euphemistically called the common good must be our priority. I will put up further posts on forgiveness later.
I am old enough to remember Nicolai Kruschev and his ability to skirt around answering any American suggestion with an outright ‘Niet!’ In fact he became known as Mr No – no relation at all with our friend Dr No although his negative vibes were every bit as destructive. This year’s trip to Cuba brought back memories of those heady days of near nuclear catastrophe dipping our toes into the Bay of Pigs. It turned out to be a complete disaster with the US backed ex pats being soundly routed by Fidel Castro becasuse they failed to bring a map with them, and nuclear red buttons being simply too hot to handle for either side to press.
So trying to take this by force unilaterally doesn’t often get you the intended consequences you desire. Had Kennedy and Kruschev sat down to talk turkey things might have bee different. A velvet revolution might have happened in Havana long since as all civilisations try to establish a balance between left an right, between public and private ownership, between the have’s and the have nots and on and one. That brings us to the very topical issue of where we are with Brexit. I might be missing what is happening behind the scenes. But all we see in the public place is some pretty swinging positional bargaining with each and every UK proposal to deliver a compromise on trade being shot down either by Barnier et al saying they are unworkable in Ireland or at all, or by the more extreme elements of the Conservative party – who one might surmise positively relish a hard cliff edge Brexit. For the rest of us urging politicians to vacuously ‘get on with it’ without the slightest notion of what that might entail, we are left dumbfounded as to what ‘leaving the EU entails. You can rest assured that it has little to do with the simplistic notions of what some politicians were talking about in 2016. You can rest assured that whatever the public face, whatever the silly dance of the fan tailed fairy destined to impress momentarily, the mandarins are talking turkey and there’s some gigantic compromises on the way and only then will we find that it serves our mutual interests to retreat from our Bay of Pigs moment to create something trhat’s workable so that both sides can say they have suceeded (note I don’t use the word ‘win’). The grass has to be greener on the other side!
So compromise creates positive vibes ; so it all goes to show that ‘you can’t always get what you want’ – sometimes you have to settle for a little bit of what you want to cut the deal – the Rolling Stones got it right
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Today it is exactly a year before we are destined to leave the EU with its connotations of separation and isolation. Che sera sera whatever will be will be. It’s odd that someone as European as I should reflect now on the benefits of distancing ourselves from our continental cousins. The first break from the continent happened thousands of years ago when literally we broke off creating the channel that divides us now and the white cliffs of Dover that welcome those that cross it from the other side. Cliffs and channels like walls are dividers that some would say have kept us safe from many a foreign invader since the dawn of time, just as the roads and byways between the Republic and Northern Ireland bind it together in an admixture of personal and business ties matched by the blending of the landscapes.
But is the Channel, La Manche, and the resulting cliffs as much of a divide as meets the eye? We are a nation of shopkeepers and merchants continuing to cross borders whatever the politicians are proposing, as we cannot be an isolated island just as the borders between northern Irelánd and the South cannot contain and won’t contain those com d’habitude who cris cross the border daily.
In a sense borders like the Channel soften the divide. Sometimes in life we need the in between, the space, and it’s good to have the grey between the black and the white. Right the way down to our personal relationships space allows for individuality and scope to grow together in a much more fulfilled life than something overly centralised and suffocating. New relationships based on a wider experience can develop, and we should shun those who want to take back control regardless of the need to embrace, trade, share and co-operate. We need to relish the grey! So there’s a challenge there for any globalisers like me to change the invitation to separate to a new kind of sustainable co-existence, one that relishes ones own space whilst at the same time embracing our neighbour – this is perhaps a fitting message this Eastertide wishing you all a very happy and blessed one.
There’s a sign above monasteries welcoming strangers. ‘Pax Intrantibus’ or Peace to all who enter – words that evoke both hope and promise. This connotes the idea of retreating from the harsh realities of the world outside to inner, islands of peace. But it’s a lot wider than that. Peace isn’t just something internalised and private; peace should be our legacy, our mandate and our mission.This sets a fitting theme for my review of the year end 2017
So much of what I have written in previous issues hones in on the abject failures of people to communicate peaceably with each other. The last year has seen our politicians raucously claiming utterly untenable and extremist positions – Boris on Europe, Trump on just about anything, Junker in his determination to treat England punitively, and then there’s the Israelis and the Palestinians providing a Mexican standoff. There were little signs of promise to come with Mugabe going in Zimbabwe and Zuma on the way out in S Africa, and signs of some progress in passing the first Brexit hurdle. Even the stock market rallied. But there’s been an underlying gloom about the standing of those in responsibility, in the growing inequality between the haves and the have nots, in the willingness to spend billions on Trident rather than the NHS, in Natanyahu expanding settlements in the Occupied West Bank and crowing over Jerusalem – all these dampen the hope and promise for 2018.
There’s a lot more that those of us who think and breath peace and mediation can do to improve things in our world next year. So don’t let the peace within stop our striving for a peace without.
In mediations we were used to things being hushed up such that you have to be there to see the action as one side makes an offer and the other bats back with a counter offer. Politicians don’t have the luxury of doing things quietly as if it isn’t the subject of a press announcement on the day, it’s leaked and all over your front pages. To our shuttle quietly plying our trade between two or more rooms is matched by the super shuttle designed as much to inform a wider audience whilst very publicly parrying with each other.
What a spat we have had over the past few months as David Davis moves up from nil to somewhere close to €50,000, and Herr Junker seems to stick at rather more. I won’t ponder the political considerations, but starting at an extreme position simply encourages the other side to reciprocate making it harder to find the centre ground that the timetable dictates we should be up to. Had we simply seen the result after a series of secret meetings, there would be shock and horror from the home crowd as they would neither know how you got there, or fawned consent to what emerges. So understanding and appreciating different stages of the negotiation and somehow being seen to authorise or rubber stamp the next stage is a necessary pre requisite of the super shuttle. But to a timid commercial mediator looking in it all seems sometimes like pistols at dawn.
Maybe they would have avoided some of the testiness had they sat a little longer in smoke filled rooms with a glass in hand rhumb nations on the possibilities rather than the improbabilities showcased in recent months.
Doubtless many of you will have kept abreast of the way international politics seems to be heading – there is more of an inclination now to build a protective wall of words or concrete as if it were to make the world a better place by lambasting ones enemies in spontaneous tweets or making contractors rich in building seemingly impenetrable wall. The Romans did it with Hadrian’s Wall to keep those barbaric Scots in ancient Alba. If my history serves me right, the Chinese replicated it by building the great wall to keep out the Mongol hoards. Alcatraz was meant to keep bad people in. Our great castles bear witness to an age when walls were there not only to protect those within but to dominate those without. Walls stopped being built defensively when we had learnt the lesson that they are pretty ineffective – particularly against the cannons. But wasn’t it Sir Isaac Newton who said that we still build too many walls and not enough bridges. It was always thus. We bang far too many people up in prison to protect the public just as Israel builds walls to keep people in perhaps emanated by Trump keep Mexicans out. In or out the merry dance continues like some
The latest offering on the wall in Bethlehem
But we have seen time and time again that there ought to be no constraints to the human mind and no walls to dampen the human spirit as humanity wins in the end – we have seen it in Germany when the wall came down; it worked in Northern Ireland despite many a slip; we see it every day when some Israelis and Palestinians are willing to cross the divide and to work, talk and break bread together. ‘Love recognises no barriers. It can jump hurdles, leaps fences, penetrate walls to arrive at its destination full of hope’ (Maria Angelou). So really we don’t need cannons to defeat the whole point of having walls and fences. Those of us old and wise enough to see through all this destructive rhetoric, all these knee jerk tweeted reactions to events that go on around us, we have a task in hand; we have work to do to educate particularly young people that there are older kinder and better ways to communicate with and treat each other. It is often the weakest in our societies such as refugees and others who have lost everything that bring out the best in us – such as the wonderful spirit of those who helped at the Grenfell Tower or those supporting victims and offenders in the restorative justice programme. Our connectivity to each other should triumph over our own destructive tendency to isolate, protect, wall out the enemy. Mankind is so silly you have to laugh sometimes at just how thick we all are at learning the lessons of history.
Making light in the Walled off Hotel Bethlehem. We are all walled in in the end … so!