I draw a sharp intake of breath when attempting to write on the subject of the Middle East. As we report on the region, we take great pains to paint a picture from all sides. But I am also aware that sensitivities mean that we often receive feedback suggesting we are showing more sympathy to one side or the other. But I guess if you get complaints from both sides hopefully the balance is just about right. The truth is all opinions are always sought and welcome.
So then, on that note, on to Israel which is approaching the 60th anniversary of it's declaration of Independence. And I guess it's a time for reflection. The hopes and dreams of an Israeli state living alongside its Arab neighbours in peace and harmony have not been realized yet. Things have come close and there have been some successes. Tom Segev the renowned historian and author reminded me this week "we have peace with Egypt and we have peace with Jordan, which is not something you can't take for granted". But this is a region whose people still appear to be locked in the grip of fear after sixty years.
David Ben-Gurion publicly pronouncing the Declaration of the State of Israel (May 14 1948, Tel Aviv)
The problem is physical - the need for land for Israelis and Palestinians to continue a future of self-determination. But maybe that's the easy bit. A somewhat greater dilemma for would-be peace-makers is that this is a region charged full of religious identity. When you start adding that dimension, you step into an emotional level, where claims are made and qualified based on interpretations of belief.
Why is it so difficult?
Can the conflict be solved? In a word - no, not in the near future anyway. According to Tom Segev it is a conflict that can be managed "because you are asking people to make a compromise with their own identity".
After 60 years...
How can the middle-ground become the normal state of play and extreme action/reaction start to be seen as a thing of the bad old days. Take Northern Ireland; two communities that held different traditions and beliefs who were (seemingly) incapable of living side by side. Why was there peace? Extreme factions were squeezed on both sides. The world pressured the politicians to make concessions and people sickened by the destruction withdraw any notion of support for those who carried out the violence. Positions switched away from the extremes to the centre and peace (after a period of some years) seemed the only natural progression. Let's hope all peoples of the Middle East don't have to wait another 60 years for this to happen.
A Reality Check on "Israel at 60" can be heard on Saturday 3rd May, at 12 midday. Click here after the show to download a podcast or listen directly:
title: FM4 Reality Check: Israel at 60 length: 18:23 MP3 (17.621MB) | WMA