State Department spokesman Sean McCormack revealed this week that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been talking to ex-Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton about their experiences in trying to negotiate peace between Israel and its Arab enemies.
Carter successfully brokered a peace treaty at Camp David in 1978 between Egypt and Israel, which has endured for 29 years surviving many strains that could have permanently ended the relationship during this period.
Clinton walked away empty handed in 2000 at Camp David after two weeks of intense one on one diplomacy with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat.
Ms Rice certainly needs all the advice and help she can get as she struggles to get her planned international meeting in Annapolis off the ground. Even if she succeeds it could end in so much bitterness and enmity that it could signal the end of President Bush’s vision to create a new democratic Arab State between Israel and Jordan.
Why then did Carter succeed and Clinton fail and what lessons are there to be learnt by Ms Rice?
Three critical differences marked the negotiations that were undertaken by each President:
1. Two sovereign States - Israel and Egypt - were the parties in the Carter negotiations.
One sovereign State - Israel - and one non sovereign entity - the Palestinian Authority - were the parties in the Clinton negotiations.
2. Egyptian sovereign territory - the Sinai - was the territorial issue at the Carter negotiations.
Territory belonging to no sovereign State - the West Bank and Gaza - was the territorial issue at the Clinton negotiations.
3. Up to 7000 Jews faced removal from the Sinai to successfully conclude the Carter negotiations, whilst up to 200000 Jews faced removal from the West Bank and Gaza if the Clinton negotiations were to succeed.
Additionally, highly emotive issues concerning refugees and Jerusalem were the sting in the tail for Clinton’s negotiations once the territorial issue had been resolved.
Israel had no historic territorial claims on Sinai. Israel returned every square metre of the Sinai and removed all 7000 Jews living there to secure peace with Egypt.
In the process Israel also handed over the Alma Oil Field it had discovered valued at over $100 billion - which would have secured energy independence for Israel if it had been retained - as well as military bases and airfields.
100% of Egyptian sovereign territory captured by Israel in the Six Day War was thus returned to Egypt by Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin - for solemn promises of peace contained on a piece of paper.
Arafat similarly demanded the return of every square metre of the West Bank and Gaza in the Clinton negotiations which would have necessitated all 200000 Jews living there being uprooted. If it had worked for Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat - Arafat probably reasoned -why would it not work for him?
There was one great difference.
The land Arafat sought exclusively for himself was “no man’s land “- territory in which sovereignty remained unallocated between Jews and Arabs and whose last sovereign ruler was Great Britain under the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine from 1920-1948.
Following Britain’s withdrawal in May 1948, Jordan had seized and occupied the West Bank - dispossessing those Jews then living there - until losing it to Israel in the Six Day War in 1967.
Jews - who had been entitled to settle in the West Bank from 1922 under Article 6 of the Mandate as later confirmed by article 80 of the United Nations Charter - started returning to live there after 1967.
Arafat was offered 90% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, refused to take it and ended up with nothing. 450000 Jews currently living in the West Bank complicate any such offer being renewed again.
Condolezza Rice has hopefully learnt the following four lessons from these two Presidential negotiations :
1. Israel has valid territorial claims in the West Bank - the biblical heartland of the Jewish people - created by the League of Nations and the United Nations, that will not be ceded in their entirety.
2. Removing 450000 Jews to satisfy the territorial demands of a non-sovereign claimant with an inferior claim in international law to Israel is a certain recipe for negotiations to fail.
3. Negotiations between Sovereign States are easier to successfully conclude - especially where territorial disputes are involved that have a linkage to those States historically, geographically and demographically as is the case with Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.
4. Negotiations that have failed are not likely to succeed in the future if the same demands continue to be made without any real change by the party who caused the original negotiations to fail.
Sean McCormack said Ms. Rice:
“is a student of history and has a keen appreciation for how we can apply the lessons of history, what we can learn from those who have gone before us”
Her discussions with Presidents Carter and Clinton should have convinced her that further negotiations on President Bush’s two state vision have the hallmark of Clinton failure stamped all over them.
Ms Rice needs to have the candour to tell the President just that and to formulate a policy which can lead to negotiations between Israel and Jordan on the future of the West Bank which can have successful outcomes like those achieved between Israel and Egypt in the Carter negotiations.
President Bush can still leave the Oval Office a winner and avoid being buried in the diplomatic graveyard among those who tried - and failed - to resolve any aspect of the Arab-Israel conflict.
To do so he needs to quickly jettison his two state vision which has gone nowhere in five years. His decision - either way - will become history too.