by Hillel Schenker
Despite the great skepticism about the prospects of the new round of direct negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders - reflected in the Time magazine cover story "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace" and comments by many Palestinians in the West Bank - if this round of talks ends in the same manner as the Camp David 2000 talks, with a total breakdown and mutual recriminations, it may represent the last opportunity to achieve a realistic two-state solution.
Ten years ago, one of the major failures of the Camp David talks was the fact that they ended without any joint declaration, and with no statement of progress from the American hosts. Although President Clinton asked adviser Dr. Aaron David Miller to draft such a statement of progress when the talks ended without an agreement, the combined opposition of Prime Minister Barak and President Arafat to the publication of such a statement caused Clinton to back down.
Hopefully a formula for continuing the talks will be found. But if the talks collapse because of an Israeli unwillingness to extend the settlement freeze scheduled to end next week, Palestinian terrorist actions or any other reason, it will be absolutely essential that the Americans issue such a "progress report" to serve as a benchmark and basis for the continuation of the negotiations.
It's not enough for President Obama to say that "if the talks break down, the United States would keep trying" (Ha'aretz, Sept. 12, 2010). One of the major sources of hope in the current round of talks is that the Americans have declared that they will offer "bridging proposals" when they feel it is necessary. If the talks stall, or break down, Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and Middle East Envoy Senator Mitchell must be prepared to offer creative bridging proposals.
Another advantage that this round of talks has, compared to the situation in 2000 is the fact that they are being accompanied by the Arab Peace Initiative, which was originally launched by the Arab League Summit Conference in Beirut in 2002 and reconfirmed at all subsequent summit conferences. While there was no Arab presence at Camp David in 2000, both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah were present in Washington at the inauguration of the current round of talks. As President Mubarak wrote in a recent op-ed article "A peace plan within our grasp" (New York Times, August 31, 2010), "For an Israeli-Palestinian peace to succeed, it must also be embedded in a broader regional peace between Israel and the Arab world. The Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by all Arab states, offers Israel peace and normalization in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from Arab territory and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue."
The Arab Peace Initiative, a historic reversal of the three no's of the post-67 Arab League Summit Conference at Khartoum, has never been officially discussed in Israeli government forums. Would it be too much to hope that ministers Barak, Braverman, Herzog, Ben-Eliezer, Meridor and Eitan, all of whom support the current round of talks, might propose that the Arab Peace Initiative be on the agenda of one of the Sunday government cabinet meetings? Or that it might be placed on the agenda of the Knesset's Security and Foreign Affairs Committee?
One of the famous sayings about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is the concept of "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity," originally attributed to the late Abba Eban. It is critical that all concerned, Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders will not miss this opportunity.