In the ever-elusive quest for peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, what goes around comes around. And much of it is not very encouraging.
The Obama administration is signaling plans for yet another international conference, Arab nations are once again rejecting U.S. pleas for gestures toward Israel, and even Yasser Arafat has risen from the dead to cast his shadow over a gathering of the Palestinian faction presumably open to peace.
As diplomats and pundits have long noted, the general contours of any deal between Israel and the Palestinians are well-known. It's only the details of a two-state solution that need to be worked out. But we will see little progress as long as the Arab world refuses to take the necessary steps to fully recognize Israel's legitimacy and place in the world.
Both Saudi Arabia and Jordan over the past week rebuffed the U.S. effort to push confidence-building steps toward Israel as a way to encourage new negotiations. Their public rejection of such measures — including opening trade offices or academic exchanges — was a particular slap in the face to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stood side by side with officials from both countries as they each said no.
Just a few days later, posters of Arafat were plastered all over the walls of a gathering in Bethlehem, where his Fatah faction had gathered for its first convention in 20 years. Beyond the specifics of the party platform that were being hammered out, most chilling were the comments of a top Palestinian official, who said that military action against Israel was still very much on the table.
"Fatah will never give up on the armed struggle until we get our state," Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the Palestinian Authority's internal security force and a leading contender for a top Fatah role, was quoted saying. "Until then, this is just a time out for tactical reasons."
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is reportedly considering another international conference to help jump-start the process. But there have been more than enough international conferences — the last one was held in in Annapolis in 2007 under President George W. Bush — all of which have led nowhere.
What is needed now is less stagecraft and a more honest assessment of what's needed. Diplomacy is fine, but until the rhetoric and the rejectionism end, there is little hope that this administration will be any more successful than the past several U.S. presidents have been in shaping peace in the Middle East.
As the Anti-Defamation League aptly put it in a widely placed advertisement (including in this paper) targeted at Obama this week: "It's time to stop pressuring our vital friend and ally. It's time to direct your attention to the rejectionists who refuse to recognize Israel and negotiate an end to the conflict."