The international peace conference declared by President Bush could serve as a turning point in the Middle East, but may also become another Madrid Conference 2 – virtual and pathetic. This “conference” was the product of the superfluous activities of the “peace industry” and “back-channel” go-getters, whose contribution to international peace is minimal.
The excessive work of this “peace industry,” coupled with Israel’s hesitant diplomacy, may lead to false expectations that have no chance of materializing, especially when the Saudi peace initiative is worded in definitive and categorical terms that contradict the principle of compromise – one of the peace conference’s foundation stones.
Israeli diplomacy must quickly begin working in pre-Madrid mode: Set clear goals, help draft the invitations to the conference, instill the Israeli vision for peace in foreign ministries and public opinion around the world.
It must work toward formulating a code of behavior for the conference’s participants in order to prevent every small disagreement or dispute from erupting into a major crisis.
The Madrid Conference in 1991, which was made possible only through intensive diplomatic activity, set the multilateral track in motion and completely changed the face of the region.
In the absence of determined, full-fledged diplomatic initiative on the part of the Foreign Ministry, the arena may be subjected to illusion and impositions and thus to unavoidable failure.
Therefore, Israeli diplomacy must act so that the preparations for the international peace conference in Washington will be meticulous and pave the way for all parties involved to soften their stances.
The Foreign Ministry must make certain that the participants will adhere to the most stringent conditions, including the denouncement of terror, preserving human rights and moving towards democracy. Only this will ensure the success of the peace conference.
Participants should be called upon to articulate the future of the Middle East as to the kind of peace regime that will prevail, the relations between the nations, the significance of the term normalization and their adherence to this state of affairs.
Israeli diplomacy should be the catalyst of the international community in setting these tests and make sure that the participants are adopting the principles of mutual recognition, compromise and confidence building. Otherwise, the formula “territory for peace” may easily become “territory for non-peace”.
If Israeli diplomacy wakes up to act as a major initiator it will be able to engage the region into positive activities while taking advantage of the Saudi initiative on the one hand and the concern over a nuclear Iran on the other.
Such developments may also prompt Hamas to abandon its violent ways and perhaps even recognize Israel.
The ultimate test of the country’s diplomats is to prevent a futile peace conference that will become a meeting place of erroneous American foreign policy and unimaginative and non-resourceful Israeli diplomacy: Yet another interim station on the road to nowhere.
If Israeli diplomacy will stand idly by and leave the arena to unauthorized activity and meddling that spreads illusionary solutions – this is a sure recipe for the conference’s failure.
The writer is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry