Friday, 20 April 2007

A dose of Belgian pragmatism

Khaled Diab

My last hours in Belgium before I depart the calm serenity and measured reserve of this green and temperate land for the intensity, passion and madness of the ‘Holy Land’.

Sitting amongst quiet and sleepy commuters on the train this morning, I was struck by the idea that Belgium and Israel-Palestine have quite a lot in common and that the Israelis and Palestinians could learn a lot from my adopted home, namely the Belgian sense of pragmatic compromise.

Both Belgium and Israel-Palestine are about the same size geographically, have a similar population density, and are made up of two main communities. While there is no raging conflict between Belgium’s two language groups, there are major tensions. However, there is such a commitment to consensus politics that the term ‘Belgian compromise’ has become a term recognised internationally.

Despite its lack of a strong national identity and the gradual rise of the far right, Belgium has held together remarkably well – and this has mainly been a result of the country’s pragmatism. This has led to some pretty convoluted arrangements, and making a cup of coffee in the corridors of power requires long-winded political horse trading – ­but rather that than violent conflict.

Interestingly, while Jerusalem currently divides Israelis and Palestinians, Brussels cements the Belgians together. Perhaps declaring the Holy City the capital of the two peoples would have a similar bonding effect for them.

The Palestinians and Israelis on their own internal turf have shown that pragmatic ability to compromise, as their coalition governments show. And Israel’s settlement building activity reveals a talent for creating complex realities. However, it is an absence of pragmatism that hobbles the conflict, as reflected in Israel’s dependence on its military might, its insistence on unilateral solutions (even during the Oslo years) and its ‘take first, give later’ approach. Then, there’s Hamas’s insistence on not recognising Israel formally, even though it recognises it in all but name – and, earlier, all the years wasted by the PLO in refusing to face a similar reality.

Of course, in Belgium, there is not the massive imbalance in power and no long-standing history of violence between Flemings and Walloons. But Israelis and Palestinians could do well to inject a dose of Belgian pragmatism into their relationship.

©Khaled Diab. Text and photo.

1 comment:

Randall said...

This is gorgeous!