For those of you who’ve been on a desert island for the past few weeks, there’s a Mideast peace conference taking shape scheduled for Annapolis on November 29th. No, no one’s been formally invited. There’s no formal agenda. One key state that was half-invited has said it will be wholly-absent. One uninvited key political faction that dare not mention its name (at least as far as Israel, the U.S. and PA are concerned) has warned that the conference is illegitimate. All we know for sure is that Condi Rice, Ehud Olmert, and Mahmoud Abbas will be spending some hopefully quality time together (joined apparently by some Japanese diplomats who feel they have something important to say on this subject) in Annapolis next month.
It gives me a sense of deja vu for Condi Rice to be shuttling between Mideast capitals trying her best to get to where Bill Clinton was just before Camp David in 2000. She’s having a helluva hard time. That’s because there’s one difference. In 2000, Yaser Arafat didn’t trust us, but didn’t hate us. It’s now 2008 and Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t hate us either. But most of the rest of the world does. It’s pretty tough when you’re occupying two Muslim countries to get the attention of the Arab countries that matter.
After meeting with Condi, Egyptian representatives were sounding a bit more optimistic though they didn’t say why. It’s all a crap shoot really. We hear that Olmert and Abbas are actually grappling with real nitty gritty issues in the run up to Annapolis. If so, this would be a welcome change from the last eight years when Israeli governments did everything BUT grapple with the real underlying issues necessary to make peace. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that Israel is finally ready to do this or the PA, or Fatah or Hamas is finally ready to do that. The proof is in the pudding, not in talking about it.
Two things make me deeply pessimistic about the outcome. First, the U.S. is treating Syria like Typhoid Mary instead of like an integral partner in the peace process. Apparently, Syria is going to be invited to the conference as a member of an Arab League committee but not as one of the key interlocutor countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Just as worrying is that the U.S. continues to pretend that Hamas doesn’t exist. Rice, Olmert and Abbas somehow believe that if there is a peace breakthrough Hamas will just be finessed into going along.
The looming summit has caused the Mideast analysts to go into hyperdrive coming up with policy papers which they hope might influence Bush Administration thinking. And much of it is terrific stuff. But we’ve been there before. Everyone knows where we need to go and how we need to get there. Everyone except the extremists on both sides, that is. Nevertheless, it’s worth highlighting some of the best efforts being made to impact the policy debate.
Jerry Haber of Magnes Zionist informed me about this initiative from what I call the Republican greybeard establishment published in, of all places, the New York Review of Books. This letter to President Bush and Secretary Rice was organized by the US/Middle East Project founded by Brent Scowcroft and Henry Siegman) and the New America Foundation (one of whose senior fellows is Daniel Levy). Other signatories are Nancy Kassebaum, Lee Hamilton, Zbigniew Brezinski, Paul Volcker, Carla Hills, Thomas Pickering and Ted Sorensen. Yes, I know these are all George HW Bush’s friends and not George Jr.’s. Look how much impact the Hamilton-Baker Commission had on U.S. Iraq policy. So how much weight can they muster in the face of the overwhelming power of the Cheneyites? Again, I’m pessimistic. But that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t hope. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to be proven wrong for once?
Here’s the outline of what I call the Greybeard Letter:
* Two states, based on the lines of June 4, 1967, with minor, reciprocal, and agreed-upon modifications as expressed in a 1:1 land swap;
* Jerusalem as home to two capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty;
* Special arrangements for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them;
* A solution to the refugee problem that is consistent with the two-state solution, addresses the Palestinian refugees’ deep sense of injustice, as well as provides them with meaningful financial compensation and resettlement assistance;
* Security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty.
David A.M. Wilensky says
I like that letter. Let’s get to it!