It's easy to be cynical, but Annapolis does matter.So Levy says before explaining in pretty convincing detail why Annapolis does not, in fact, matter. Although it could be a "rebirth of hope," which has all the practical usefulness of an insemination of glee or an evacuation of consternation or some other [bodily function] of [abstract noun].
-Daniel Levy (via Yglesias)
I'll not just make fun though. Levy sensibly notes that the requisites Israel demands of Palestine prior to ending occupation are precisely the things that occupation itself renders impracticable and impossible. Telling Palestinians that they must guarantee "security" to Israel (and we can pause to note that Israel commits far graver breaches of Palestinian "security" than any Palestinian group is even capable) while the occupation continues is really quite ridiculous, and Americans in general might better appreciate that point if they were actually paying attention to our own attempts to occupy Iraq.
Meanwhile, what you have are two parties whose preconditions to negotiating with each other preclude good-faith negotiations. Israel doesn't recognize the majority party in Palestine; the majority party in Palestine is so deeply committed to the rhetoric of Israeli illegitemacy that it would effectively abnegate its bargaining ability even if it were to decide that direct negotiation were the least costly path with the greatest likelihood of beneficial outcomes, and the actual Palestinian representation at this conference is a minority government with its own legitimacy issues. Add to this the insistence of either party that its counterpart effectuate the end result of an ideal negotiated settlement as a prerequisite for negotiating in the first place.
What you have, then, are two parties set to enter negotiations with a prior committment not to make a concessionary agreement. That's a bargain-speak term of art for: Fawk yooze and the horses yooze rode in on. It suggests a mind-set in which the parties to the negotiation see a final bargaining agreement as a set of competing gives and gains, each ranked and ordered and all weighed against each other, with the idea that from this Kabala one can determine with precise, mathematical accuracy whether one has won or lost. This, by the way, is the default view of most people and organizations, and if you ever sit through a labor negotiation, you will see it in action, both sides huddled paranoiacally around their set of imperatives, willing to concede this or that only if the other side makes an immediate and commensurate compensation for this "loss."
The few really successful negotations operate on a wholly different set of principles. True, they also seek to mediate the imperatives or necessities of interested parties, but instead of seeking to maximize party-specific gains while minimizing party-specific concessions, they seek an encompassing and holistic framework for the continuation and growth of a cooperative enterprise. In other words, their final settlements are not long, complex, attempted-encyclopedic codes of every possible interaction, itemized and subdivided, self-referencing, convoluted, and based on an underlying assumption that in order to prevent advantage-taking, every instance of conflict must be predicted, codified, and dealt with in advance. The endless flowering of contract language is a result of its emphasis on preemption and its assumption of ultimate bad faith even as suppsedly "good faith" negotiations led to it. Again, the ideal is not a set of ordinances laid out in advance to deal with every conceivable outcome, every underhanded attempt by management to screw the shop out of overtime and every slimy attempt by the business agent to pyramid the work calls. The ideal is constituional in design, a document that, though it does spell out specific responsibilities, is more concerned with establishing reasonable purviews among parties for its own implementation and rational mechanisms for mediating disputes when they arise. That is no more a perfect solution than any other--after all, look at what happened to our Constitution. Nevertheless, it sure beats a 100-page agreement with fifty five-page appendices, three side-letter agreements, and 500,000 words of minutes from the negotiations.
The Israeli-Palestinain situation is compounded in its awfulness by the extreme disproportion of wealth and power. Isreal is the guiltier party insofar as it possesses the wherewithal to make the first good-faith gestures whereas the Palestinians objectively do not. They lack the physical capacity to make absolute security guarantees. They are poor, ineffectual, and divided among themselves. Israel, as an occupying power, has actively sought that condition, by the way. That's what occupying powers do if they want to remain occupying powers. But we should not kid ourselves about the nobility of the long-suffering Palestinian people, either, even as we take their side. It's romantic and paternalistic, and it overlooks the fact that "peoples" aren't people and aren't endowed with aspects of personality and virtue. That means: Don't imagine that just because they have been abused and occupied, the Palestinians are now incapable of subterfage, bad faith, bad acting, and irrational self-interest. That's another lesson from labor-management land. The harder you beat down on the union, the nastier, sneakier, and more dishonest they will become in the next round of talks, and with good reason.
In any case, if Israel will not begin the process by dismantling settlements and easing travel restrictions--in effect, easing the occupation dramatically enough to allow the emergence of a Palestinian entity that isn't crippled and ineffectual before it comes to the table, then hope, such as it is, will be more like stillborn.