French propose another Middle East conference

Do we really need yet another international conference to break the logjam in peace talks about the Palestine issue? The French have proposed such a conference, to convene in Paris this month or in early July, to follow up on parameters defined by President Obama in his recent speech.

Abbas has accepted the French proposal provisionally, but his Hamas partners have pulled back. Netanyahu says Israel won’t play ball with anybody associated with Hamas and anyway it’s better to stick with the negotiating track we already have, ie, sponsored by his US ally. So this trial balloon already seems to be running rapidly out of hot air. Tomorrow it may already be yesterday’s news.

I wouldn’t bother to comment except that I think the idea of a new conference this summer has some merit, if handled properly. All concerned parties (and there are many of them) have had their assumptions jiggled by the revolutionary disturbances shaking much of the Arab world. The rest of the world, including the Europeans, is fed up with Israeli intransigeance. The Israelis, though acting as inflexible as ever, have woken up to the fact that the Palestinian plan to apply for recognition at the UN in September has some hookers in it that can work around a US veto in the Security Council. The American public, or at least a part of it, is showing some faint signs of getting tired of being the world’s sole holdout in support of Israel right or wrong. Obama, after his latest bout with Bibi, must want to get the Israeli albatross off his back, if he can find a way to do so¬†without irreparably damaging his electoral prospects next year. Perhaps he might just sit on the sidelines this time, or even offer to cooperate, instead of telling the French and everyone else to knock it off so that we can continue to be in charge of negotiations designed to go nowhere.

Five years ago I proposed a Rome conference (“Restoring Order in the Middle East“) which might have more than just an acronym going for it, if it could engage professional diplomats from all interested parties in an operation allowing them to wheel and deal over a fairly protracted period in a hospitable environment. After all, it worked a couple of centuries ago with the Congress of Vienna. The Middle East muddle is at least as complicated as Europe was back then, and in as much need of sorting out. The French would have to stretch a bit to provide hospitality as lavish as the Hapsburgs did at Vienna but they are probably up to the challenge. And if they aren’t maybe Berlusconi would step up to the plate, reestablishing Rome’s reputation as the center of the universe.

Carl Coon 6/5/11



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