Lots of unintentional humor of a dark kind in today’s NY Times article, Rice Hints at U.S. Peace Push on Mideast. It’s the type of article that unfortunately reinforces just how dim U.S. policy is toward the Israeli-Arab conflict. First, surprise, surprise, after campaigning on a promise of never trying to impose U.S. will or solutions on the parties to the conflict and spending the last six years coasting on a policy of do-nothingness, Condi Rice has decided that well, maybe she needs to pull a Bill Clinton and actually come up with some creative ideas to move the parties forward:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has opened the door to the possibility that the United States might offer its own proposals to bridge the divide on some of the issues that have bedeviled the region since 1979.
“I don’t rule out at some point that might be a useful thing to do,” Ms. Rice told reporters in Washington before departing for Aswan, Egypt.
Of course, trying to impose an American-made solution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has, for years, been the very thing that Bush administration officials have steadfastly said they would not do.
But times have changed.
Indeed. Iraq in full civil war mode. Gazans starving. Israelis wallowing in scandal and post-war malaise. Bush’s presidency in the toilet. What can she lose? But just think if she had come to this realization when Bush actually had some of that famous political capital he promised to invest in resolving this conflict. Come to think of it–don’t think of that. It’s enough to make you weep.
Here’s more of what I call “Boker tov” (which could roughly be translated as “gee, dya think??”) policy wonk moments:
Several State Department officials say that there is now an acknowledgment within the administration that the hands-off policy has caused prospects for peace to deteriorate.
“This is a place where if you leave things alone, they don’t just stagnate,” one administration official said. “They get worse.”
Ms. Rice has been pushing for openings even as multiple doors have appeared to slam shut.
It took them six years to realize this?
In Egypt this weekend, Ms. Rice is expected to try to prod America’s Sunni Arab allies to augment a 2002 Saudi peace proposal when the Arab League holds its meeting in Riyadh at the end of the month. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, who is on his own tour of the Middle East, will also be there.
American officials have largely given up their hope that the Arabs might actually change the initiative to include things more palatable to Israel — like, for instance, signaling a willingness to at least discuss ways to settle the issue of Palestinian refugees who left, or were forced to leave, their homes in Israel.
But Ms. Rice may be able to get some sort of formal or informal mechanism going that could give the Israelis the hope of eventually normalizing relations with the Arab world, American officials said. “It would be a very good thing if at some point, the Arab initiative provided a basis for discussion,” Ms. Rice said.
This is all so hopelessly vague and even unnecessary. Why in God’s name do you try to tinker with a pre-negotiation proposal when that’s what you’re supposed to do during actual negotiations? It reminds me of the days of Bobby Fisher when he used to bargain endlessly on the most minute rules of the chess match before he even sat down to play. I say, play the game. Stop trying to change the rules for the negotiation and just negotiate. In fact, the very notion that the rules of talking must suit you fully BEFORE you talk is a way to prevent anyone FROM talking. Rice is still playing the Israeli game here. And that is a sure sign of a hopeless outcome even before she’s starting.
There’s this new meme reflected here and in Tom Friedman’s last column (TimesSelect required) that the onus is now on Saudi Arabia to carry water for the U.S. in brokering Arab consensus to make peace with Israel. I’m sorry but it just doesn’t work that way. This is just an acknowledgment that the U.S. is so hopelessly biased in favor of Israel that it can’t possibly serve any useful or honest broker role between the sides. That leaves it to the Saudi king to lay his entire prestige on the line on behalf of peace. The Saudis have always been loathe to bet the house when there is so much to lose. And besides, relying on them so completely is yet another sign of the weakness of our own position.
I always like hearing from David Makovsky on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He always has something relatively innocuous and useless to say that reflects hopelessly pro-Israel prejudices. Here he doesn’t disappoint:
“We’re at a critical juncture right now,” said David Makovsky, a Middle East specialist with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Arab states can reach out to the Israeli center, and to Olmert,” who Mr. Makovsky pointed out is politically weakened right now within Israel. “But if they don’t, they shouldn’t be surprised if Israel moves rightward.”
Oh, you mean the Arabs should be shivering in their boots at the prospect that if they don’t make their best deal with that well-known “centrist” Olmert that Netanyahu is in the wings? And this is supposed to intimidate them? Look, they’ve lived through Netanyahu, Shamir and Sharon before. Israeli right wing ogres just don’t intimidate like they used to especially after Israel’s shellacking in Lebanon.
I say boys and girls, get down to talking before it’s too late for both of your sides.