Majorca was at its loveliest yesterday morning and at such a time there is no lovelier part of this island than Formentor. The sun sparkled on the sea and the waves lapped gently on the deserted beach – deserted not because it was already November but, presumably, because of the demands of security when some of the most important and therefore most vulnerable men in the world were meeting at the Formentor Hotel. As I walked to the hotel for the day's events, I could not help wishing – irrationally, as I knew – that the essence of the morning's calm, its warmth, the brilliance of its light, the iridescent colours of the sea, could be transmuted into a spirit of goodwill that would help solve the intractable problem at the centre of everyone's mind.

The reality was darker, of course. On the previous evening, in his keynote address President Mubarak of Egypt had said: “The situation in the Middle East is deteriorating day after day, without a glimpse of hope of reaching in the near future a peaceful settlement for the conflict that has lasted for over half a century.” This was one of the bleakest assesments of the Israeli/Palestinian situation that one could expect to hear – and it came from a man of great wisdom and immense stature who backed up his assertion with a detailed exposition. It was not what the assembled media from all over the world wanted to hear.

They had come to Formentor because a conference whose original purpose was quite different had coincidentally brought together two men at the heart of the stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians – Shimon Perez and Yassir Arafat. Would they meet? Would they talk? Would the peace process inch forward at Formentor day? The answer, of course, was that they would shake hands and smile for the cameras – but would certainly not engage in substantive discussion. The issues are too complex, the stakes too high, and they know each other's positions too well, for any break–through to take place without the most painstaking preparation.

But Yassir Arafat and Shimon Peres each spoke to the conference on the issue that consumes them. It cannot be said that either broke any new ground; rather, they re–stated their familiar positions, repeated their conviction that with goodwill an agreement should be possible – but took care also to make clear where their non–negotiable lines were drawn.

Yassir Arafat speaks with the conviction of someone who has sustained the vision of a Palestinian State for 35 years and is now closer than ever to seeing it brought to reality. Shimon Peres is more reflective; yesterday morning he spoke movingly about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and of how he has tried to absorb his reconciliatory spirit.


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