Ask Colin Powell and Jim Wolfensohn -- Not Just Chris Hill.
The New York Times had an editorial today that really gets to the core of this administration's diplomatic under-reach. It is entitled "What Would a Diplomat Do?" The NYT echoes many of the points I made in the Guardian Online, last Thursday, in terms of how to move the President's conference idea forward: talk to Hamas, bring in Syria, and, centrally, do the diplomatic preparation with Jim Baker's '91 Madrid conference as your model.
there is still a perplexing refusal to do the tedious but absolutely essential diplomatic prep work...
They are still refusing to talk to people they loathe. The militant Palestinian movement Hamas is definitely not invited to their meeting, even though it controls a large swath of Palestinian territory and psyche. And Syria probably won’t make the list. Both deserve loathing but also have the ability to shatter any peace effort, and further isolating them will only give them further incentive to try.
... it took former Secretary of State James Baker (no slouch as a negotiator) eight grueling shuttle trips to set the stage for the 1991 Madrid peace conference.
The NYT editorial ends by asking "What would Chris Hill do?" and talks about the lessons from the heavy diplomatic lifting on the North Korea file not being applied elsewhere. That's a fair focus given that North Korea and Chris Hill are such rare examples of the US punching at its diplomatic weight in recent years.
On the Palestinian file, though, it is worth noting what two no less qualified diplomats had to say in the last days. Two of the world's most respected former senior office holders have just spoken out, one on NPR, the other in Ha'aretz. So what would Colin Powell and Jim Wolfensohn do?
In an NPR interview on July 19, former Secretary of State Powell was asked the following question:
... in the Middle East peace process, would you talk to Hamas right now in Gaza?
Here is his reply:
I think you'd have to find some way to talk to Hamas. I don't want to insert myself into what Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice is doing or what the president is doing. But they are not going to go away. And we have to remember that they enjoy considerable support among the Palestinian people. They won an election that we insisted upon having. And so, as unpleasant a group as they may be, and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think that through the [Middle East Quartet, which consists of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations] or through some means, Hamas has to be engaged. I don't think you can just cast them into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking into account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community.
Then, in a fascinating interview in the weekend's Ha'aretz, former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn casts his eye at the Gazan and Palestinian reality. Here is the excerpt:
However, in Wolfensohn's view, none of the sides can allow itself to observe from afar the new reality that has emerged in the region and to wait for it to change. "The reality is that you have 1.4 million Palestinians living in Gaza and you can't wish them away, you can't leave Gaza as a place where the rich and the intellectuals and the powerful can get out, and leave just the people who can't make a living - or can make a living if they could, but have no leadership. And military use or subjugation doesn't solve the problem, it seems to me."
It is Wolfensohn's view that "in the interest of Israel, in the interest of the Palestinians, there is a need to get things back to a situation where there is representation of all the Palestinian people in an entity that can deal with Israel to bring about, if Israel wishes, a two-state solution, which appears to be a thing Secretary [of State] Rice is now committed to." The situation, he says, cannot simply "be allowed to lie there, because just pretending that 1.4 million people can live in a sort of prison is not a solution at all. So I think it's going to require, on the part of Tony Blair or someone, some real negotiations to try and get this started."
Asked about another possible way out of the deadlock - with Israel taking the initiative and exerting pressure on the Palestinian population to rid itself of the Hamas leadership, or assassinating the organization's leaders in order to pave the way for Fatah to take control again - Wolfensohn shrugs his shoulders. "I'm not at all sure that Israel can determine what happens in Palestine, the Palestinian territories. There's been no evidence up to now that a decision taken by the Israelis will determine what the Palestinians do. I don't think personally that a military solution is a solution," he says dryly.
The Wolfensohn interview is very wide-ranging and worth reading in its entirety. Wolfensohn's warmth and commitment to peace and security for Israelis, Palestinians, and the region is palpable throughout the interview. He even discusses the role of Elliot Abrams and how Wolfensohn's own mission was thwarted by Abrams.
Wolfensohn has a challenging take on Israel-Palestine in the global context -- as an off-off-off-off Broadway show that needs to be resolved in particular for the Israeli interest. He cares passionately about Israel in that genuine way that is not often heard. Here is Wolfensohn on the future of Israeli youth:
"The expenses on military and intelligence in Israel are probably greater than in any democracy I know of, and I can understand that, given the situation, but as a continuing characteristic of the country, I don't think it's hopeful. To me it is so bloody sad that all the creativity you have in Israeli youth has to go through this experience in the army, risking their lives," Wolfensohn says, casting his gaze far beyond Central Park. "Israeli youth finish high school and spend two-three years in the army, and then go to Thailand and other places and smoke pot to get over it, then come back and start their lives when they're 24. I don't think that's an ideal way for the next generation of Israel to live their lives."