Patrick Seale, the respected Middle East commentator and biographer of Hafez Assad, argues in today's GulfNews.com that
Former US president Bill Clinton may be the only man in the world able to bring the parties to the negotiating table. He is acceptable to both sides, and has enough personal authority, expert knowledge and persuasive charm to stand a reasonable chance of success. As president of the US, Clinton came close in 2000 to forging peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and Syrians. He should now be given a second chance.
Seale points out that "almost everyone is agreed that the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict has developed into a major threat to international peace and security... the conflict has brutalized Israel... Palestinian and Lebanese societies have been shattered... the U.S. has been stripped of moral authority... there is no more urgent problem on the international agenda. Seale suggests that Bill Clinton be assisted in this task by former World Bank president James Wolfensohn.
OK, so this is hardly the first time that former President Clinton has been touted for such a position, and, yes, I know that it is politically inconceivable as long as his wife is a presidential candidate. But two points worth echoing are being made here: First is how little political-diplomatic effort is invested in a conflict that, while claiming comparatively few casualties, actually has such a dramatic impact in the regional and even global setting. There has almost been an inverse relationship in the last years between the anti-US radicalism fueled and exploited by this conflict, on the one hand, and the political capital devoted to solving it, on the other. Of course it becomes all the more infuriating when one considers that the solutions are relatively known and even attainable.
The second observation that the fantastical Bill Clinton nomination gives rise to is this: what happened to the idea of deploying heavyweight diplomatic fixers? (Heavyweight, that is, in terms of authority and substance, not necessarily physique.) The US has had no Mideast envoy since the Bush Administration came into office. Now I don't see having an envoy as being an end in itself. But have there not been moments when a focused and experienced diplomatic presence could have helped push regional developments in a more helpful direction? I know, I know. If one is averse to diplomacy, it doesn't leave much room for dynamic diplomats.
And here is an afterthought... There are parameters for Israeli-Palestinian peace known as the Clinton Plan. Is it supported by the presidential candidates for '08, including the one whose name already adorns the plan?