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In public diplomacy, there is no substance

Jacobs:  Loudly advertised, the summit in Annapolis between Israeli and Palestinian officials ended with a whimper.   Nobody should be surprised.
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Loudly advertised, the summit in Annapolis between Israeli and Palestinian officials ended with a whimper. The talks began with the expected hyperbolic hoopla, but when the week was over, any optimism about the outcome seemed more vain hope than realistic expectation. Nobody should be surprised.

From the beginning, the administration’s effort to host a meaningful exchange between Israeli and Palestinian leaders possessed a large element of public relations glitter and not much substance. Resolving the Palestinian problem is vital to peace in the region and to our own security, and the United States is one of the few nations that can broker a viable deal. But the event seemed to most observers to be little more than an attempt by the president to check the “End Arab-Israeli Conflict” box on his report card. Statecraft is not the administration’s forte.

The situation is more difficult and complicated now than it has been for some time. For 40 years, Palestinian territory has been in two major pieces, Gaza and the West Bank, but since the coup that ousted Mahmoud Abbas from his governance of Gaza, there have been really two Palestinian governments and only Abbas came to Annapolis. Now, it’s certainly true that the government of Gaza is really just a bunch of revolutionary thugs, and peace with Israel is antithetical to its objectives. But if anything is to be achieved, a prerequisite will be co-opting recalcitrant fundamentalists or destroying them.

And the specter of Iran hung menacingly over the event as well. Our misadventure in Iraq has ironically managed to vault Iran into a position of some consequence and influence among those with anti-American and anti-Israeli proclivities. While one should realistically expect Iran to be obstructionist, and no agreement will ever get Iran’s blessing, how to deal with Teheran is an important component of any Mideast pact.

A solution to the conflict will also have to include some things that are difficult, though not impossible, to achieve. Among them are the repositioning of Israeli’s security fence to establish a mutually acceptable border, the eviction of Israeli settlers, and the return of the Golan Heights. These and other things can be accomplished. But among the host of obstacles to a lasting peace is a most contentious and perhaps almost insoluble problem: Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is central to all of the world’s monotheistic religions, and nobody is prepared to give it up. This would argue logically for a multinational administration of the holy places if not the entire city, but emotion and bitter experience are at work here, not logic. So, even in the unlikely event that Iran and its revolutionary clients cease to be factors, and even if American diplomatic skill can forge an agreement on every other major point of contention, the problem of what to do with Jerusalem will remain. And this is especially true as long as summit meetings are more PR than substance.

Public events like the summit in Annapolis do have a place in making some people feel like  something is being done, but we should recognize that talks that result in further talks are a necessary but only temporary palliative. The real business of solving problems is always best accomplished in secret.

Jack Jacobs is a military analyst. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and also has three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.