Middle East Peace Summit

After seven years of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, the Bush administration’s most serious attempt to engage in Middle East peacemaking is predicted to be a failure. According to former senior United States’ diplomats, there is a “profound” chance that the upcoming Middle East peace summit organized by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will fail because of a lack of groundwork done by the American government.

After all the trips Rice and her American colleagues have made to the Middle East, they not only should have had this summit completely organized by now, they should have been putting the finishing touches on it. The fact is that nothing has really developed. Ms. Rice has made a noble effort to pull the necessary parties together, but that’s not enough. The reality of the situation is that we just don’t have the credibility and standing we once had in the world. America has cast its lot with Israel at the expense of being fair and balanced with the Arab states. The amount of money and support the US has given to Israel over the years (conservatively estimated at $100 billion since 1949) is unprecedented in terms of permanent foreign aid. With the War in Iraq siphoning billions of dollars per month away from the coffer, and Arab states becoming increasingly militant, the US is in no position to continue supporting Israel unconditionally.  

The respective former senior US officials — Thomas Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs, Robert Pelletreau, a former assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, and Samuel Lewis, a former director of policy planning — have several critiques for Ms. Rice and the Bush Administration for their handling of the Middle East peace summit. First, they say this meeting is occurring too late.

According to Mr. Pelletreau, “This administration over the last six years has neglected this major issue … It is only now, in the last year and a half of the administration, that I think they are realizing there is an important role to play (in Israel/Palestine peacemaking efforts).”

Second, the former officials are saying that one meeting is not nearly enough. They believe that a series of summits would lessen the expectations and burdens on the lone scheduled summit, increase participation in the peacemaking talks, and prevent a potentially disastrous assembly like the one that spurred a Palestinian uprising in 2000. And finally, the three former officials believe that excluding Syria, Hamas, or any other country or group would be counterproductive.

Often the opinions of former government officials are publicized, scrutinized, and valued because of their inside knowledge and experience. And just as often, I put very little stock in their thoughts, because you never know their motive. Speaking out on an issue or situation they are no longer directly involved in could be netting them money, could be politically motivated, or could simply involve grinding an old axe. And, the aforementioned three former US officials — despite their solid reputations and impressive credentials – are no different. Therefore, I did some personal research on the issue of the peace summit and after speaking to some connected folks, came up with just about the same alarming analysis: the upcoming Middle East peace summit will fail to do much good.

I understand that most Americans aren’t very tuned in to the fight between Israel and Palestine. Most people see the War in Iraq and the ongoing battles in Afghanistan as much more important – and the fact is that our media either creates and/or supports that belief. But we must realize that the Middle East is like a kindergarten playground; every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. Thus, any activity in the Israel/Palestine conflict influences the situations in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, and so forth.

Although the fight for the holy land is no longer the sexy war, it is as critical a foreign situation as any in the last 25 years. The United States must play a central role in brokering peace in that territory — if nothing more than to gain back some of the good will we’ve lost in the last five years. That said, we cannot continue handing over a blank check without bringing all the influential parties to the table and working with each of them on an ongoing basis to resolve the situation. The upcoming peace summit is a good start, but if nothing else occurs, it is too little, too late.