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It seems as though almost every U.S. President must attempt a summit of some sort to kick-start yet another round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, along with the greater Arab world. Such was the case in late November when President George W. Bush invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Annapolis, Maryland, along with more than 40 international participants.
Many wonder, after decades of continued fighting in the Mid-East, why such attempts at conducting endless peace talks are still made when they obviously yield little peace. “Aren’t there more constructive issues to tackle,” one might rightfully ask, “such as global warming or combating AIDS in Africa?”
Americans might wonder why their country dedicates so many of its resources to the Middle East, and why each U.S. presidency is held responsible for attempting to solve the problem.
Clearly, regional stability is important for the global economy, primarily due to the world’s dependency on Arab-controlled oil. Certainly, expatriates from the region are naturally concerned about the well-being of relatives in the “old country.” In addition, the Middle East—particularly Israel and Jerusalem—is the worldwide religious focal point for professing Christians, followers of Islam and adherents to Judaism.
The international community often expects the United States, the world’s leading democracy, to instill or maintain relative peace wherever possible. This puts America in an unwinnable position: If, when intervening in foreign affairs, the U.S. takes an unpopular stance, it is accused of exerting itself as the “world’s policeman”; but if America refrains from acting, nations criticize it for failing to intervene.
Therefore, presidents exert varying degrees of effort concerning the Middle East. Some act to build upon their presidential legacy as their departure from office draws near. Others bow to domestic political pressure or in fear of damaging international relations. And some might make the attempt to solving the Mid-East trouble simply because they truly desire peace.
But regardless of motives, peace talks have resulted in more talk than actual peace.
In the 1978 Camp David Accords, in which U.S. President Jimmy Carter hosted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, peaceful negotiations ultimately resulted in two agreements: (1) to set up a self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza; and (2) a framework that eventually led to the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
The 1991 Madrid Conference saw Israel and Egypt meet again, this time with Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Even the Palestinians (who were not directly involved with the Camp David Accords) were represented—but as a part of the Jordanian delegation rather than by Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which the Israelis rejected at the time. The talks ultimately resulted in a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994, as well as continued negotiations between Israel and Syria.
The Oslo Agreement of 1993 provided direct communication between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people represented by the PLO. An agreement followed that spoke of putting “an end to decades of confrontation and conflict” and of each side recognizing “their mutual legitimate and political rights” (BBC), implying a future separate state of Palestine. But the November 4, 1995, assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ended the course at that time.
Keep in mind also that during the peace talks, the Palestinians and Israelis continued to fight. What are known as the First Intifada (1987 to 1993) and the Second Intifada (2000 to present) killed thousands. The failure of the Camp David sessions of 2000, in which President Bill Clinton hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, essentially resulted in renewed violence, the Second Intifada, which continues to this day.
Following the efforts of U.S. Senator George Mitchell in 2001 and a statement by President George W. Bush in 2002 calling for a Palestinian state (first such statement by a U.S. President) came the formation of the “Quartet”: the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. In 2003 they presented a “Road Map” to a “final settlement”; the world still awaits its implementation.
As Mr. Bush’s presidential term approaches its end, the seeming obligatory attempt at yet another round of peace talks has come to the fore. He himself suggested that it was not a risk, but rather “an obligation.”
Expectations were extremely low, and conflicts in direction became evident between the State Department and the White House. The date was set for Tuesday, November 27, and the place was Annapolis, Maryland, where Mr. Bush hosted Mr. Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Later that day, the three released a joint statement, calling for an immediate resumption of negotiations between Israel and Palestinian government: “We agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements. We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations and shall make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008.”
Critics were quick to question the timing and reality of such a target, suggesting that both Messrs. Olmert and Abbas are politically weak. The militant Palestinian faction Hamas immediately rejected Mr. Abbas’s speech. Meanwhile, the Saudi Foreign Minister suggested it was equally important for Israel to negotiate with Lebanon and Syria.
The next day, November 28, Mr. Bush met privately with each of the leaders and then jointly before the three appeared together for an official send-off from the Rose Garden. Mr. Bush then declared the conference a success: “No matter how important yesterday was, it’s not nearly as important as tomorrow and the days beyond. I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t believe that peace was possible.”
But elsewhere, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the conference a “failure.” He also said, “It is impossible that the Zionist regime will survive. Collapse is in the nature of this regime because it has been created on aggression, lying, oppression and crime.”
Interestingly, Mr. Olmert also warned of Israel’s end. Referring to the demographic challenge of the current situation (i.e., the Palestinian portion of the Israeli population is growing faster than the traditional Jewish portion), he suggested that his nation would ultimately lose if a Palestinian state were not created. “If the day comes,” he said, “when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished” (Haaretz).
The ongoing state of suffering, misery, despair and violence in the Middle East—as well as other parts of the world—will cease, replaced with hope, prosperity, universal harmony and peace. But this future scenario will not come about as a result of peace talks, despite the noble intentions of diplomats and negotiators. Neither will the world’s secularists nor religionists provide the answers that will solve humanity’s increasing troubles and ills.
Only a perfect government, led by perfect leadership, will bring this hope to fruition. Such government and leadership is the only way.