When and how will we ever achieve a solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem?

As I said a few months ago, the conflict is mired in the swamp of history and everything that’s happened since the dreadful events of 7 October have only served to make things worse. Indeed, there is a very real danger that this conflict is going to escalate in ways that are scary to say the least.

That’s why I was so pleased to read a BBC report that said the Foreign Secretary David Cameron has told the Conservative Middle East Council that Britain is ready to bring forward the moment when it formally recognises a Palestinian state. The Palestinian people would have to be shown “irreversible progress” towards a two-state solution he said, adding “As that happens, we - with allies - will look at the issue of recognising a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations,” “That could be one of the things that helps to make this process irreversible.”

There are those who are not happy with those remarks of course but it seems to me that Lord Cameron’s remarks make sense. The last 30 years have proved a story of failure because Israel has clearly failed in its attempt to provide effective security for its citizens. 7 October is glaring proof of that, and a challenge to everyone involved, not least Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who seems to be completely opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state once the conflict in Gaza comes to an end.

As I’ve been reflecting on all of this, I have found myself wondering if that hard-line Israeli politician has ever read the works of the former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. If he hasn’t, I think he should, because Sacks possessed a wisdom of the highest order. Sadly, he is no longer with us in person, but his legacy lives on in his writings, and not least in his masterful book ‘Lessons in Leadership’.

In one very insightful chapter entitled ‘Conflict Resolution’ Lord Sacks looks at the way in which Moses dealt with a ‘potentially disastrous situation’ and noted that the principles he adopted mirrored the principles found in the Harvard Negotiation project one of which stressed the need to ‘Focus on interests, not positions’ because when we do that we start asking, ‘Is there a way of achieving what each of us wants?’

Sacks is right. The solution to the problem facing those involved in the current conflict will only be found when both sides are willing to recognise each other’s desires and concerns and find a way of relating to each other accordingly. David Cameron seems to be aware of this and it was so encouraging to hear him say this publicly.

But let’s not ignore the fact that this principle has implications for our personal relationships too. The apostle Paul clearly understood this as we can see from the following piece of advice he offered his Christian friends in the church at Philippi. There were clearly tensions among them and so he said ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others’. As CS Lewis once suggested humility does not mean we think less of ourselves, but we do think of ourselves less. It seems to me that we’d all get along better if we took the apostle’s advice to heart.