Skip to content

Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations

The death of Yasir Arafat provided perhaps the best chance for a breakthrough in negotiating a peace between Israel and the Palestinians that we have seen in a very long time. It seems important that we make the most of it, not only for the sake of those in the region but for the benefit a Palestinian/Israeli peace would provide throughout the Arab and greater Islamic world: it would remove the primary excuse for Arab and Islamic antagonism toward America. That does not mean there would not be other reasons for such antagonism; but up to now invoking Israel and the Palestinians has effectively shut down any further conversation.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, however, did not seem like it would be easy. It was clear the United States needed to engage in the negotiations but our credibility both in the Middle East and in Europe is almost nonexistent at the moment. Further, between Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran and North Korea and Sudan (and whatever other hot spots the world is going to offer this year) the attention of both the President and the Secretary of State are pretty well consumed.

I had a suggestion for what we could do to facilitate the negations. Unfortunately I have no way to make that suggestion to anyone who could act on it. So tried an end-run. I sent it to William Safire of The New York Times. He is not in government, but he is both well-known and well-respected within ‘conservative’ circles and his long career in journalism has assuredly given him contacts that could move such a suggestion along if he chose to recommend it. Since my suggestion was never taken I don’t know whether he moved it along or not. He may very well have; it may simply have been unusable.

29 November 2004

I don’t know whether you have channels into the executive branch but I know I do not, and you are the most likely and open-minded and interested candidate I can think of who I can actually reach by e-mail…. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

It occurs to me (and I am sure to others) that an effective approach to getting the most out of the current negotiating opportunity in the middle-east would be for the President to appoint a special envoy rather than to handle it through the Secretary of State and the State Department. That would not only leave the Secretary free to focus her attentions on the rest of the war on terror but would also give the negotiator both additional moral authority (as the personal appointment of the President and his personal representative) and less “official” baggage (as someone not actively engaged in other aspects of American foreign policy).

My nominee for the post: Bill Clinton.

I will say up front that I never liked him — I thought from the beginning he was sleazy and self-serving — but he is genuinely intelligent and well-educated, he is a talented politician and negotiator, he seemed to have a good rapport with the parties on the ground in the Middle East, and on that one issue he was engaged and really did seem to care about the result more than about his own image.

The advantages:

  1. Although he is from “the opposition” his position on the final form of an Arab/Israeli solution seems close enough to George Bush’s that he could speak for American policy without introducing contradictions.
  2. As a former President he would bring the gravitas of direct involvement by “The President of the United States” without side-tracking the current President, without interfering with ongoing policy elsewhere, and without — because he is no longer in office — connecting the honor of the United States directly to the outcome.
  3. He has a level of trust and admiration in the region and in Europe that the current President — or that any political appointee of the current President — could never muster.
  4. His appointment would signal to the world — and to the opposition at home — that this is a serious and important process that transcends politics. It would, therefore, be harder to dismiss or criticize it as a political machination or to characterize it as a sideshow for the President or to turn into a running campaign prop.
  5. His participation would put a bipartisan sheen on the negotiation and on the final result that would leave no doubt that American commitment was not dependent on the party affiliation of the current or future executive and legislative powers.
  6. His participation would put a bipartisan sheen on the negotiation and on the final result that would eliminate it as a political issue here — thus making it more likely to succeed.
  7. His participation would make it easier for European leaders — who are committed to hating the current administration as a matter of policy — publicly to cooperate with America on this issue, thus lubricating the way on others.

From a domestic political standpoint, it would tie a popular Democratic icon to a Republican administration policy initiative, thus blunting his effectiveness (and that of his wife?) as a critic of the administration in future elections. And it would make George Bush seem particularly gracious, cooperative, and non-partisan, thus muting the current round of criticism over the “conservative consolidation” in the cabinet and in Congress.

Plus, it would give Bill Clinton a chance to finish the one truly bold and good thing he did by his own initiative during his Presidency — which makes it likely that he might actually accept the job. Perhaps it would be an opportunity to redeem himself for the muck through which he dragged us otherwise.

Thank you again for your consideration.

© Copyright 2004, 2005, Augustus P. Lowell

Leave a Reply