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David Miliband: The Voice of Experience Addresses the Israeli-Palestine Conflict from This Side of Failure

Posted on the 23 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
David Miliband: The voice of experience addresses the Israeli-Palestine conflict from this side of failure

DAvid Miliband, former UK Foreign Secretary. Photo credit: World Economic Forum, 2010

David Miliband addressed a fund raising event this week in aid of OneVoice, the movement aimed at ending Israel-Palestinian conflict. His speech was, to use Miliband’s own dialectic, both “ordinary” and “extraordinary”. “Ordinary” in that it was not laced with rhetoric or major announcements or grand claims – which might have been his province when he was Foreign Secretary and almost certainly would have been had he become Labour Leader. “Extraordinary” in that it was a speech given from the far side of failure; he felt able to tell his audience what the world of politics and diplomacy are really like, what really matters in these spheres.

This was a speech littered with those signal words “actually” and “frankly”. For example, talking of the failure in Israel-Palestinian diplomacy, he said: ”It’s the greatest diplomatic failure because, actually, it is one of those international problems to which there is actually a viable solution.”

“Actually” is the small word here, the equivalent of an “um” or an “err”, but it is also most telling. If one listens to the literal in this speech it is really quite shocking: “actually there is a viable solution”. This hard-edged, front-line candour ran through all he said; like a confession. Indeed, “truth” was a word he used over and over again.

“The truth is that the agenda in Israel, in the United States, and I have to say in the large part in the Gulf is not about Israel and Palestine, it is about Iran. The truth is that the Arab Spring has turned regional attention away from the Israel-Palestine question.” Or: “The wider truth is that OneVoice is doing some good in circumstances that are basically very bad. In fact, the circumstances in many ways have rarely been worse in the last 30 or 40 years.”

The new geo-politics is about to leave Israel-Palestinian problem behind.

Speaking in “basic politics”
Miliband’s confession went further: “This is a very challenging period because in blunt terms, to speak in basic politics to you, the Israel-Palestine question is probably now fourth or fifth on the Middle East political agenda, never mind on the global political agenda.”

And finally (from a former UK Foreign Secretary, no less) the revelation that our reliance on the US to broker a solution for Israel-Palestinian problems for the last five decades has been misplaced: “If we rely only on the United States as the motor of progress in the region, then I am afraid we are going to be waiting a very long time.”

And then: “I think that it is true… in Israel and in Palestine, the talk of a “peace process” rings hollow. Calls for a new, renewed, integrated “peace process” rings hollow.” Not only did he tell OneVoice that their cause was slipping into insignificance, but he also suggested that in their heart of hearts, no-one in the audience believed in the peace process any more.

The lost leader
Of course, if one listens to the literal in this speech, one can hear not only how the world has changed since the Arab Spring, but also how far David Miliband himself has traveled. For example, when putting a new gloss on the notion that people get the governments they deserve: “I spent 20 years trying to help the Labour Party become a good government for the people, but what OneVoice amongst others taught me was that you can’t have a good government for the people unless you have a commitment to the government by the people.”

As a Labour Leader, Miliband would never have had the freedom of voice to make this statement. It reveals how far Miliband has now moved from the front bench. So when people talk of his return, it seems impossible to me for a man who has now understood, with such candour, the reality that people must commit to government – could ever come back to lead a government again.

William Blake, the greatest revolutionary poet, once asked: “What is the price of experience? Do men buy it for a song?”. In this speech one can hear the voice of experience, not jaundiced exactly but certainly changed. As Blake said:“It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:/Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me.“

Read the whole text of David Miliband’s speech to OneVoice here at VoiceGig.

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