Naysayers Are Not Always Right

Article excerpt

Israel's U.S. envoy on reviving 'the spirit of Camp David.'

An Israeli prime minister widely described as a hawk, and an Arab leader perilously isolated and reviled by the radicals, enter into peace talks--what chance do they have of succeeding? Not much, according to many commentators writing about the relaunch of direct talks in Washington this week between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The former, say the skeptics, is too unyielding to strike a historic deal, and the latter too fragile. And yet, a similar situation existed more than 30 years ago when Menachem Begin, Israel's famously hardline leader, met at Camp David with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, whom the rejectionist Arab states had labeled a traitor. Begin and Sadat surprised the naysayers by reaching a peace accord that has endured through many Middle East crises. Netanyahu and Abbas can triumph as well, provided that the spirit of Camp David is preserved.

That spirit was captured by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who stated that the upcoming discussions should be "characterized by good faith" and conducted "without preconditions." Begin and Sadat indeed displayed good faith. Though they came to Camp David with many expectations, neither of them demanded concessions up front. Negotiations, they knew, are about exchanging views and compromising, not about dictating the outcome in advance.

Today, Israeli and Palestinian leaders also have expectations. Israel, for example, seeks assurances that any future Palestinian state will not have missiles that can be fired at Israel's cities or warplanes that can shoot down its airliners. Israel also wants the Palestinians to recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people and to end all further claims. And Israelis want the Palestinians to stop naming their town squares after notorious terrorists, and to cease teaching their children that Israel has no right to exist. These provisions are backed by the vast majority of Israelis, but the Israeli government has not cited them as preconditions for talks. …