Harder Than Becoming President

November 4, 2009

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Hillary Clinton has found out that being first lady has its challenges, becoming president is not so easy, but hardest of all may be going to the Middle Easte and being liked by all. In just a matter of days she has needed adjustment in her rhetoric as she met with leaders from different side of the Middle East conflict.

Early in the week during her visit to Israel she made statements praising the Jewish state for taking unprecedented steps towards peace by committing to slow the building of settlements in the “occupied” territories. Later in the week she quickly found out why it is called the Middle East conflict and not the Middle East friendly negotiation as she was roasted by the Arabs for these comments as they are considering the freeze of building of new settlements as a pre-condition to negotiations.

Hillary back peddled faster than an intern leaving the oval office after having “relations” with the President. And regarding the President’s stance on the Middle East she was quoted as saying “Perhaps those of us who work for him and communicate about this issue should have made very clear that there was no change in our position, that we were absolutely committed to the end of settlement activity.”

I am not a Hillary hater but she has to be fairly ignorant to think you can go into the Middle East tell everyone what they want to hear and not only walk away a hero but get anything accomplished. I think this little jump around in stance has gone a long way in destroying her reputation as a serious negotiator. I am not saying I have the skill set to succeed in very so many have failed but here are my opinions on how you have to approach negotiations in the Middle East.

  1. Recognize that both sides are deeply tied to their views and in some cases see certain factors as not issues up for negotiation but a critical factor for their survival.
  2. Recognize that unfortunately the Palestinians are highly influenced by groups that would not benefit from peace so they are in no position to really negotiate and continue to use the lack of negotiation as just fuel for would be extremists.
  3. Recognize that Israel wants peace as it can gain nothing through conflict but it is a tiny country surrounded by its enemies so it can’t realistically give away key pieces of land as this would threaten its survival.
  4. Finally, recognize that the Palestinians are in no position to have an effective government, as they have proved so many times, so this conflict cannot be solved just by awarding land. A Palestinian state would quickly fall apart and be a home to terrorists if they do not first evolve at simply governing themselves and having a healthy economy. I am not really sure why they have not tried this at all in the territory that they do have or in one of the Arab states around them who have plenty of land to give them.

So, my solution would be to make sure that both sides understand what is on the table and what is off the table as currently some things being asked for just cannot be given under any circumstances. Second, I would make sure that concession from either side can be monitored to make sure it is executed and each concession is reciprocated. This is important as promises are easy to break and if you are getting nothing in return then they become routine to break. Third, part of the negotiation must involve one of the “neutral” Arab states that can sponsor the Palestinians as they establish themselves. Lastly, drop the dumbest idea in the world which is preconditions. Why on earth would anyone give up something before negotiations even start.

This last point explains why negotiations have stalled as the Arabs have made it a precondition that Israel stops building new settlements. Why would a country with limited space and a growing population ever do that? Plus why would they give up one of the key things on the negotiating table before they ever sit down at the table?

Anyway, that rant is probably a good place to stop.

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