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Two-state problem

26 April 2013

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I FOUND Israel: Facing the Future (BBC2, Wednesday of last week), in which John Ware reported the current state of public and private opinion about what might lie ahead for Jew and Arab, a confusing programme. Paradoxically, that was also its real strength; rather than pursue a unified thesis promoting a clear direction, Ware presented us with the conflicting aspirations of a wide range of Israelis and Palestinians.

How dead is the two-state solution? How much longer will secular Jews fund the ultra-Orthodox, who pay no tax, refuse to serve in the army, and are subsidised to spend their days studying the Torah? How typical are the young Palestinians who say that there is no future for a separate state, and that the only hope is for a single nation in which Jew and Arab work out, through democratic institutions, how to live together?

Religion, of course, is centre-stage in the conflict - or, at least, the perception of religion. As so often, what is presented as the non-negotiable consequence of living a life of faith looks suspiciously like cultural tradition that happens to confer some benefit on those who demand it. Insisting that your position is divinely inspired reduces the room for compromise, to say the least.

Ware found some significant figures who were willing to state publicly that a new direction will have to be found, and that Israel must find a new balance between Zionistic exclusivity and an inclusive secular state.

The part that God and religion should play in the ordering of the state and of private lives was central to last week's The Century That Wrote Itself (BBC4, Wednesdays), Adam Nicholson's infectious presentation of 17th- century English; and, in particular, how the growth of writing and keeping diaries gives us intimate insights into their lives.

Perhaps his most interesting subject was the Essex clergyman and farmer Ralph Josselin, whose journals give moving insights into the Puritan sensibility that saw the hand of God in the minutest circumstance, and was convinced that each upset is divine punishment for sin. So the death of a baby son was ascribed to God's wrath over Josselin's backslid- ing in thinking too much about chess.

What a relief to turn to that most innocent of pastimes, fossicking about on the sea shore. But Richard Fortey's The Secret Life of Rockpools (BBC4, Tuesday of last week) told a different story. This is one of the most extreme environments on earth, subject twice every day to the widest fluctuation in temperature, oxygen concentration, and salinity. The creatures who have made it their home took on a new level of interest.

The exigencies of deadlines meant that, for me, the televising of Lady Thatcher's funeral took place too late to be reported. But mention must be made of BBC1's volte-face in entrusting its commentary to David Dimbleby - someone who sounded as though he actually knew what he was talking about. If this is to be a continuing aspect of the Thatcherite legacy, then I am pleased to find one element in which I can rejoice.

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