Condi Rice 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
What do Iran, the Arab League, the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli Right, the Israeli Left, the Israeli punditocracy and the omnipresent and eternally anonymous "senior Israeli defense officials" all have in common? They are all contributing members of the "Coalition of the Willing" - those willing to predict that the Annapolis meeting/summit will fail terribly and precipitate adverse consequences.
It's a strange form of unilateralism that Condoleezza Rice encounters here. She alone seems to want Annapolis to work.
Everyone has a well-reasoned explanation. Iran has come up with the usual and predictably silly vitriol on US-Zionist collusion. The Arab League wants an Israeli endorsement of the Saudi plan as a precondition. The Palestinians believe that after rejecting the Clinton package at Camp David seven years ago, and after unleashing a murderous wave of suicide bombings, they should be rewarded and their demands upgraded to include the refugee issue and Jerusalem, "or else."
Or else what?
THE ISRAELI politicians and pundits are both amazed and distraught that Secretary Rice can't fully comprehend the infinite complexity and inner-beauty of Israeli coalition politics. They evoke disingenuous one-liners like "Our voters won't stand forâ€¦" or "The government will fall ifâ€¦" and the ultimate doomsday warning about the peace process (what peace process, exactly?) tragically disintegrating because Annapolis wasn't "planned well."
In comparison, most things planned in the Middle East usually work impeccably. Ergo, it's America's fault. After all, the yardstick by which one measures the success of US policy is how savvy a secretary is in deciphering the political minds of ministers Ruhama Balila-Avraham and Gideon Ezra, or the subtle differences between Shaul Mofaz, Fuad Ben-Eliezer, Ronnie Bar-On and, of course, Minister Eli Yishai.
RICE SHOULD be commended for at least trying to learn what these politicians believe in (hint: not much) and express to them how the US sees things (which they understand significantly better only when they get to travel to Washington).
She's too involved, says the political Right. Not involved enough, replies the old Left. Involved adequately, but doesn't get it, say astute politicians (those astute enough to have been involved in last summer's Lebanon war). Involved in favor of Israel, claim the Palestinians. Not involving us, the Europeans complain. She's too involved in Iraq, anyway, the collective Middle East wisdom concludes, sealing her fate.
Naturally, if Annapolis fails, it will be "her" failure, not ours. It's about "her legacy," not our future. She'll stay in sweaty Washington or go back to miserable Palo Alto, and we'll stay here happily ever after and casually add her name to a notoriously long list of US secretaries who just "didn't get it" as profoundly and richly as we do.
Not everyone wants her to fail, but to warn her that failure can be intolerable. "Failure Risks Devastating Consequences" was the headline of an open letter sent to Rice, published by the The New York Review of Books" in its November 8 issue.
The writers, among them Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, Rice's mentor, Brent Scowcroft, and former ambassador Thomas Pickering urge her to present in Annapolis a five-point general plan based on UN resolution 242 and the Clinton package of 2000.
RICE HAS the unenviable, but attainable task of reconciling the parties' diverging ideas of Annapolis: Israel, which wants a Seinfeld summit (about nothing) and the Palestinians, who want things they neither deserve nor will get. She needs to essentially draft a concluding statement before the summit even convenes, a statement that, by the laws of nature and politics, cannot please everyone equally.
It has to be general enough for Ehud Olmert to maintain his coalition and fend off claims that he made concessions without reciprocity. Yet it has to be substantive enough if some form of bilateral negotiations will follow. It must be kept vague in terms of not rendering one side a loser and, at the same time, contain details that would constitute a formative document, one that will be referred to in later stages.
While Rice has been cautious and has lowered expectations of her current shuttle, she must recognize the fact that Israel and the Palestinians are not equal detractors. Olmert may be weak politically and his coalition fragile, but the process is supported by a majority of Israelis who know what it entails and have both an understanding and a willingness to accept the contours of a final-status agreement.
The Palestinians are a different story. They have a weak Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas-controlled Gaza, a track record of minimal compliance with agreements, a resounding failure to curb terrorism and demonstrable incompetence in running the institutions and processes of a state apparatus.
Let there be no doubt. Whatever shortcomings this administration has exhibited in the region, Secretary Rice cannot fail in Annapolis. We can.
The writer, who served as consul-general in New York, has been an adviser to four foreign ministers.
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