The Israel Policy Forum convened several former US officials (Ambassadors Sam Lewis, Tom Pickering, and Ned Walker among them) to develop some ideas for the proposed November summit. The resulting paper has been entitled, “A Guide to a Successful November International Conference” and IPF has sent it to Secretary Rice. The full document can be read here at ProspectsforPeace.com.
The IPF guide touches on many of the issues raised by this ProspectsforPeace post from five weeks ago and comes out, perhaps unsurprisingly with recommendations that push in a very similar direction. Their conclusion is as follows:
We believe that the process outlined here, with a series of conferences, a Declaration of Principles endorsed by the U.N., a Facilitating Agreement for next steps on the ground, and a broad-based regional representation at the first conference would trigger additional international conferences and a new Israeli-Palestinian momentum. The outcome would create a program that would not rise or fall on the success of one meeting this November.
Some of the specifics are interesting and I will get to them in a moment, but the more important question that this paper and other unofficial efforts bring into focus is whether the administration is undertaking a serious planning process for November and then whether it has the diplomatic competence to pull off something meaningful. On the planning side, there is every indication that the State Department is taking its homework seriously. Doubts remain though as to whether the political ideologues elsewhere in the administration food chain will allow good ideas to see the light of day. A case in point would be whether to include or exclude Syria: inside the US government, some favor and some oppose the idea. The decision, so far, is to invite Syria, but not to commit to engaging them. But the time for meaningless and harmful internal administration compromises, rather than tough decisions, has long passed. If the tough decisions are made, the moment will have arrived for heavy diplomatic lifting and this may well be a moment of truth for Secretary Rice.
By December, the words 'Condi' and 'diplomatically adroit' need to be able to coexist happily in one sentence if we are to avoid a summit that does more harm than good. The administration could do worse than listening to the ex-Ambassadors who authored this paper - among them, also, Robert Pelletreau, Frederic Hof, and the initiator of the council, UCLA professor Steven Spiegel.