(Photo Credit: Sam Sherraden)
From Steve Clemons: This is the first guest post from my new deputy director here at the American Strategy Program, Patrick Doherty. Patrick spent more than a decade working at the intersection of conflict and development in the Middle East, Africa, Balkans and Caucasus. More recently he ran the communications shop at the Center for National Policy and before that was national security editor and blogger at TomPaine.com. You’ll see more of Patrick soon on the Havana Note, as he’ll be directing our new Cuba Initiative.
Sometime in the next month, Annapolis, the quiet colonial capitol of Maryland, will play host to the latest round of negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No seasoned experts are sanguine about the prospects for a major breakthrough and most are hoping that the episode merely does no harm. But this morning, my colleague Daniel Levy hosted another pre-Annapolis briefing that demonstrates that the problem though extraordinarily complex–is not so much technical as purely political.
Levy introduced Dan Rothem, an Israeli working with the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. Rothem, whose trip was sponsored by USIP, has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill and to other policy types around town. His presentation is basic and yet complex: maps. Armed with a Mac laptop and a GIS software package, Rothem has been collecting and generating maps that turn abstract negotiating principles into real lines in the sand.
Click here for an MP3 of the presentation. I’ll post the .pdf of the slides as soon as I get them.
The issues to be negotiated are well known. Among the most pressing are, how much land for peace? How to deal with the right of return? What will be the capital of Palestine? How’s it going to work economically and who will provide the security guarantees? Dan Rothem’s presentation made it clear that once the negotiators agree to broad principles, those broad principles can be turned into reality–or at least a digital version of reality–almost instantly. No longer will presidents, prime ministers, and envoys be standing around a paper map with thick markers and quizzical looks.
But the problem coming into Annapolis is not about a lack of ideas or a lack of capability. The problem is the same that halted the last round: the lack of political will and the lack of political legitimacy. Does Israel have the political will and does the PLO have the political legitimacy? Here Daniel Levy cut through the fog and put his finger on the problem: Israel is still “playing chess with itself,” Levy said. Prime Minister Olmert needs to resurrect his political capital and then use it but resurrection for Olmert will not be easy. Once they decide to play chess with the Palestinians, sophisticated yet easy to use tools like Dan Rothem’s maps will make much quicker work of the negotiations.
It’s not all bad news. In a sad way, Kadima, the relatively new centrist party carved out of right-wing Likud and left-wing Labor, has made reaching a solution more likely. By continuing the Sharon-led policy of the erecting the wall/barrier/fence designed to separate Israelis and Palestinians, Levy says the disillusioned doves in Kadima have made whatever is east of that wall/barrier/fence definitely “not Israel.”
While Israel plays chess with itself, the Palestinians are fractured. The split between Hamas and the PLO is getting worse, with large swathes of the West Bank now off limits to the PLO leadership, not to mention the complete loss of Gaza to Hamas. Across the Territories the economy is going down and the veil is going up.
Will Abu Mazen be able to deliver anything meaningful in Annapolis? It does not look promising. The best thing that the US can do for the Palestinians, Levy says is to stop interfering and let them sort out their own politics. If the PLO can somehow re-engage Hamas moderates, Palestinian realists have the best chance to revive the outcomes of the Geneva Accords, with some modifications to the maps, of course.
The one map that Rothem did not have on his laptop today was a chart of the waters around Annapolis–regardless of what happens, it’s going to be some rough sailing for Condi Rice and she’s going to need all the help she can get.