Don’t Blame the Secretary of State If the Summit Fails


What do Iran, the Arab League, the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli right, the Israeli left, the Israeli punditocracy, and the omnipresent and eternally anonymous "senior Israeli defense officials" all have in common?

They are all contributing members of the "Coalition of the Willing" — those willing to predict that the meeting/summit in Annapolis, Md., will fail terribly and precipitate adverse consequences.

It's a strange form of unilateralism that Condoleezza Rice encounters here. She alone seems to want Annapolis to work.

Everyone has a well-reasoned explanation. Iran has come up with the usual and predictably silly vitriol on U.S.-Zionist collusion. The Arab League wants an Israeli endorsement of the Saudi plan as a precondition. The Palestinians believe that after rejecting the Clinton package at Camp David seven years ago, and after unleashing a murderous wave of suicide bombings, they should be rewarded and their demands upgraded to include the refugee issue and Jerusalem, "or else."

Or else what?

She's too involved, says Israel's political right. Not involved enough, replies the old Israeli left. Involved in favor of Israel, claim the Palestinians. Not involving us, the Europeans complain. She's too involved in Iraq, anyway, the collective Middle East wisdom concludes, sealing her fate.

Naturally, if Annapolis fails, it will be "her" failure, not ours. It's about "her legacy," not our future. She'll stay in sweaty Washington or go back to miserable Palo Alto, Calif., and we'll stay here happily ever after and casually add her name to a notoriously long list of U.S. secretaries who just "didn't get it" as profoundly and richly as we do.

Not everyone wants her to fail, but to warn her that failure can be intolerable. "Failure Risks Devastating Consequences" was the headline of an open letter sent to Rice, published by the The New York Review of Books in its Nov. 8 issue.

The writers, among them Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, Brent Scowcroft (Rice's mentor) and former ambassador Thomas Pickering, urge her to present in Annapolis a five-point general plan based on U.N. Resolution 242 and the Clinton package of 2000.

Rice has the unenviable, but attainable, task of reconciling the parties' diverging ideas of Annapolis: Israel, which wants a kind of "Seinfeld" summit (about nothing) and the Palestinians, who want things they neither deserve nor will get. Essentially, she needs to draft a concluding statement before the summit even convenes — a statement that, by the laws of nature and politics, cannot please everyone equally.

It has to be general enough for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to maintain his coalition and fend off claims that he made concessions without reciprocity. Yet it has to be substantive enough if some form of bilateral negotiations will follow. It must be kept vague in terms of not rendering one side a loser and, at the same time, contain details that would constitute a formative document, one that will be referred to in later stages.

While Rice has been cautious and has lowered expectations of her current shuttle, she must recognize the fact that Israel and the Palestinians are not equal detractors. Olmert may be weak politically and his coalition fragile, but the process is supported by a majority of Israelis who know what it entails, and have both an understanding and a willingness to accept the contours of a final-status agreement.

The Palestinians are a different story.

They have a weak Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas-controlled Gaza, a track record of minimal compliance with agreements, a resounding failure to curb terrorism, and demonstrable incompetence in running the institutions and processes of a state apparatus.

Let there be no doubt. Whatever shortcomings the Bush administration has exhibited in the region, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cannot fail in Annapolis.

But we can.

Alon Pinkas served as Israel's consul general in New York City.



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