There seems to be no shortage of plans to reach peace in the Middle East. There's President Bush's plan, which sees a Palestinian state within three years; there's the Saudi plan, also adopted by the Arab League, which allows for the acceptance of Israel; there was former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's plan offered at Camp David two years ago, which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected; there's the Bush administration's Tenet work plan and the Mitchell Commission report. And there are others.
Everyone, it seems, thinks they have a formula to bringing security to Israelis and a state to the Palestinians.
Since the failure of former President Bill Clinton's effort at Camp David, however, no one has figured out how to break the cycle of violence long enough to get Israelis and Palestinians back to talking to each other in a meaningful way, at the most senior levels, for a lengthy enough period of negotiations, to reach a settlement.
Every time one of these plans has taken a few steps toward getting peace talks moving again, Palestinian terrorists - Mr. Bush calls them "murderers" - strike at Israeli civilian or military targets, which leads to an Israeli military response, which means de-railing the diplomatic effort de jour. It's back to square one and the terrorists have won another battle in the war, which is exactly their goal, their aim being no peace with Israel and, in fact, no Israel.
The diplomatic trick that needs to be pulled off now is to find an approach that appeals to a majority of Palestinians and Israelis, in the middle of the political spectrum, who support a solution resulting in two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.
But the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says it will not negotiate with Arafat at all, and it will not negotiate with other Palestinians until the terrorism stops. The Palestinian Authority, still under Arafat's leadership even if the Bush administration no longer recognizes his authority, has proposed its own 100-day reform plan but does not want to implement it until Israeli troops withdraw from its towns and cities.
Israelis want to see their security concerns addressed first while the Palestinians and their Arab backers want to be assured by the Bush administration and other international players that there is solid agreement on their goal: a state called Palestine.
In the Middle East no one wants to make the first move, lest it be taken as a sign of weakness.
Thus, diplomats from the U.S., the U N, the European Union, Russia and from moderate Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have concluded a week's worth of talking, consulting and posturing in New York and Washington to formulate another "plan" to get peace talks moving again.
It's different this time, says Jordan's Foreign Minister, Marwan Muasher. For one thing, Muasher says, we are seeing a new approach in Arab politics, a more public approach. The effort by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, he says, is "proactive, it's making proposals to bridge gaps, suggesting ideas…which is new." Another thing that's new, says the Jordanian diplomat, is that President Bush has assured them of his commitment to a Palestinian state by "mid-year, 2005."
Perhaps being worried that for all the talks being held and the task forces being formed, the current effort will be seen only as so much diplomatic breast-beating, Secretary of State Colin Powell said "It's important to get to work on the ground and not just create plans, but to execute plans."
But the current state of affairs - indeed the reason for this week's diplomatic activity - was best described by Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister. "The Middle East is at a point where it has two divergent roads: one leading to disaster and one leading to peace and security. We all have to push or to pull toward peace and security and to prevent the road to disaster from pulling us apart."