Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lost Momentum in the Middle East Peace Process

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lost Momentum in the Middle East Peace Process

Article excerpt

THE Clinton administration has made clear its desire to see the Middle East peace process resume. Secretary of State Warren Christopher will leave for the Middle East Feb. 17 with this as one of his objectives. In the past few weeks, however, valuable momentum has been lost, making the task infinitely more difficult.

Nothing is more fatal to diplomacy than lost momentum. In the best of circumstances, any efforts undertaken to resolve a complex, bitter conflict face heavy odds, including factions on both sides that oppose the idea of negotiations. Such factions fear that face-to-face meetings may lead to compromises and to the denial, at least temporarily, of their maximum goal. Attempts to undermine peace talks usually can be held off if negotiators can show signs of progress. When little movement can be demonstrated - and especially if talks are suspended for any reason and a major mediator appears to lose interest - the peace process is seriously threatened.

This premise has been demonstrated most dramatically in attempts to resolve the conflict between Israel, the Palestinians, and the neighboring Arab states. Where successes have been achieved, such as the Camp David agreements in 1978, the United States has been the major mediator. Results were possible through sustained effort by the highest officials of the US government. Hoped-for agreements on autonomy under negotiation after Camp David were not achieved, in part because the talks were suspended at the end of President Carter's term and were not resumed by the Reagan administration.

Significant momentum was lost, and the second phase of the Camp David accords was never achieved.

In 1992, the progress made by the remarkable feat of bringing the parties together for direct talks slowed when Secretary of State James Baker III became White House chief of staff in the midst of the presidential campaign. Whatever President Bush's motives in making this change, in terms of Middle East history his decision was tragic.

Those who make such decisions maintain that no person is indispensable; if the will toward peace exists, momentum will continue. …

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