Déjà-vu in the Middle East

BERLIN -- Does history repeat itself, after all? Recent developments in the Middle East suggest that the answer is “yes,” because the situation at the end of President George W. Bush’s tenure increasingly resembles that of Bill Clinton’s final year in the presidency. Both presidents, at the end of their respective terms, sought to resolve one of the world’s most dangerous conflicts, while facing the threat that time was running out on them.

One could despair: the Bush administration has obviously wasted almost seven years during which it could have pursued a solution. We are now back to the starting point: the Camp David and Taba talks – flippantly abandoned in January 2001 – are to be taken up again. Still, as the wise saying goes, better late than never!

The Middle East conference to be held in Annapolis, Maryland should be a forum for final status negotiations between the parties, dealing above all with the establishment of a Palestinian state and its borders (those of June 1967, with some negotiated exchanges of territory), its capital (Jerusalem), Israeli settlements, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It should also address questions of security, the termination of the decades-long state of war, and recognition of Israel by the Arab states. Indeed, it is high time for progress on a two-state solution, because the Palestinians are increasingly losing hope of ever having a state of their own. Without it, the Middle East conflict will remain at a stalemate and violence will only intensify.

Acceptable compromises on all of these questions have been negotiated repeatedly by the parties and stowed away for many years. The only missing ingredient is the political will and strength to enter into a peace agreement.