The New York Review of Books, never the most clear-eyed of publications regarding the real world, offers us an open letter written by 8 prominent people to president Bush, with advice about the upcoming Annapolis conference. (Does Bush ever read these things? Should he?). Some of the prominents are relevant to the discussion (Thomas Pickering was, I think, the American ambassador to Israel), others less obviously so (Paul Volcker, for example, was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Theodore Sorenson was special advisor to president John F. Kennedy, which for all its glamor was rather a while ago. Zbigniew Brzezinski, I'f I'm not mistaken, wrote a very important book about totalitarianism, back in the early 1950s).
You get the impression (well, I get the impression) that these well-meaning folks are not particularly well versed in the reality of this part of the world. When they say, for example, that there should be special arrangements for the Old City, providing each side control of its respective holy places and unimpeded access by each community to them - has anyone mentioned to them that the holiest place to both sides is the same place? When they advocate that there should be a resolution to the refugee issue that is consistent with the two-state solution, [and] addresses the Palestinian refugees' deep sense of injustice, isn't this actually one of the major problems that needs yet to be resolved, that the "refugees' sense of justice" and the "two-state solution" contradict each other, at least at this stage of the negotiations, if you believe Mahmoud Abbas means what he says? (Also, is there a Jewish sense of injustice anywhere here that might be relevant?).
They also suggest that Arab states that currently do not enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel should attend the conference, because, you see, the only reason they may not be coming is that George Bush has neglected to invite them. Hamas apparently cannot be invited at this stage, even according to these eminent people, but they do suggest that genuine dialogue with the organization is far preferable to its isolation; it could be conducted, for example, by the UN and Quartet Middle East envoys. Promoting a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza would be a good starting point. What can I say? How is it we never thought of starting with a cease-fire?
Further on they call for various practical things to happen, among them the removal of unjustified checkpoints. I'm also in favour of that. Indeed, let's remove them and leave in place only the justified checkpoints, the ones that save lives of ordinary Israeli citizens. The decision as to which is which, you'll pardon my insisting, should be made by the professionals in protecting those lives... Ah. I see a problem. Can you spot it, too?
It is of utmost importance, if the conference is to have any credibility, that it coincide with a freeze in Israeli settlement expansion. I really and truly agree about the freeze. I can easily give five separate reasons, or eight, as to why this should happen... and none of them are about this conference, or even about the prospects for peace. Freezing the settlements, or even dismantling them all, will have no bearing on peace. Remember Gaza? Is there anything remotely like peace there? But cynicism aside, I happen to know that there is no connection between settlements and peace, because just this week some PA officials told Avi Issacharoff what they've been saying all along and never hinted otherwise: That control of the Temple Mount (holy to both sides, remember) is a deal breaker. As one of the officials told Issacharoff: "The Israeli public still doesn't understand how important the issue of Al-Aqsa is".
Actually, I think much of the Israeli public does understand: It understands that when one side can see only its own perspective while totally denying the perspective of the other side or the legitimacy of the other side having a perspective, peace may not be just around the corner.
I rather hope the President of the United States - this one, the next one, all of them - doesn't waste his (her) time on such foolish documents.