Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jerusalem is the Center of Gravity

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 398, January 19, 2017, by Prof. Efraim Inbar*:

Making strategic choices requires distinguishing which issues are urgent and which are important. Right now, the securing of Jewish control over Jerusalem is both urgent and important. Jerusalem carries great symbolic and strategic value for Israel, and Israeli control of the city must be protected.

Israel’s control of a united Jerusalem is challenged now more than ever. UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016, declared the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount occupied territory and any Jewish presence there illegal if it is without Palestinian consent. This followed the October 2016 UNESCO resolution ignoring Jewish links to the Temple Mount. Moreover, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on December 28, 2016 that for the first time, the US supports the idea that Jerusalem should be the capital of two peoples.

Many Israelis console themselves that President Donald Trump will move the US embassy to Jerusalem, signaling a new era. Even if the move takes place, and even if it goes smoothly with few repercussions, it is not at all clear that the rest of the world will fall in step.

In all probability, most of the world will refuse to come along, despite the fact that West Jerusalem is not disputed territory. It will not help that there should be no legal or political problem moving an embassy to the Western part of the city. There was great reluctance to move embassies to pre-1967 Jerusalem long before the Palestinians issued any demands for parts of the city. No particular sensitivity to the Palestinian issue was displayed during the 1948-67 period.

The truth is that many foreign ministries have not yet put to rest the November 1947 UN resolution for the partition of Palestine, which includes an article to internationalize the city under UN control. They simply do not want the Jews to have full control over the eternal city, and are eager to help the Palestinians prevent such control. 

In the Christian and Muslim worlds, Jerusalem has great resonance, and we know the attitudes towards Jews in those cultures. These factors, together with diplomatic inertia (which certainly plays a role), explain the persistent international refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is the seat of government and the capital of the Jewish state.

Jerusalem carries great symbolic value. There is no Zionism without Jerusalem, and David Ben-Gurion accordingly gave the city first priority during the 1948 War of Independence. The Palestinians understand this, which is one of the central reasons why they insist on claiming Jerusalem: they hope to water down Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel.

They have not been entirely unsuccessful in this. Today, the most assimilated elements in Israel’s society advocate parting with the Temple Mount for the sake of peace. Most Israelis, however, continue to believe that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are more important than peace. Indeed, they are ready to fight for it. (For the time being, the Palestinian leadership feels the same.)

Jerusalem also carries great strategic value. Control of Jerusalem secures dominance of the only highway from the coast of the Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley, a route along which military forces can move with little interference from Arab communities. If Israel wants to maintain a defensible border in the east, it must secure the east-west axis from the coast to the Jordan Valley via an undivided Jerusalem. The military importance of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem’s central role in Israel’s eastern line of defense, cannot be overestimated – especially given the immense potential for political upheaval east of the Jordan River. The turmoil of the past few years in the Arab world suggests the need for great caution.

Jerusalem is an issue that commands consensus in Israel. Maintaining social cohesion in the protracted conflict with the Palestinians is easier, not harder, if the struggle is for a united Jerusalem. Therefore, educational efforts should be directed towards reinforcing the national love for Jerusalem, in tandem with budgetary preferential treatment for the development of an even more thriving city.

Israel’s government should make this priority clear in its dealings with the new American administration. With that in mind, it should encourage the US to overcome complaints and threats from the international community and move its embassy to Jerusalem. That would be an important step in securing Jerusalem for the Jewish people.

Of course, most of the work remains to be done by the Israelis themselves. Fortunately, Jerusalem is in our hands, and we have a clear advantage in deciding its future.

Battles are often won by taking over the center of gravity. Jerusalem is the center of gravity in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both a symbolic and a strategic sense. This insight must be internalized by Israeli society.

*Efraim Inbar is professor emeritus of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, and the founding director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem Will Improve Prospects for Peace

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 397, 18 January 2017, by Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman:

In contrast to the recent "Stop Trump" conference in Paris, a decision by the next US administration to move the US embassy to Jerusalem might be conducive to the cause of peace. 

It will remove the air of delusional unreality surrounding all aspects of the Jerusalem question, and modify what the Palestinians should legitimately expect to achieve at the negotiating table. 

It will send a message of credibility and of stern refusal to bow to threats of violence. It would still need to be packaged carefully, above all in terms of policies the key Arab players now hope to see instituted; such as the restoration of US support for traditional allies and the willingness to back them against the Iranian and Islamist threats.

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and no amount of UN new-speak can change that. For this reason alone, a decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem – as was clearly mandated by Congressional legislation – is long overdue. But it might also turn out to contribute, in the long run, to the prospects of peace.

This claim stands in stark contrast to the dire warnings coming out of the Paris summit (which looks, in hindsight, like a “Stop Trump” gathering; hence the chilly British reaction). John Kerry, for example, spoke carelessly about an "explosion," upon which radical Islamists might feel obliged to deliver. As has been so often the case in the past, however, it is the very attempt to placate Palestinian and Arab demands that makes peace less likely. A hard dose of realism may well set the stage for serious negotiations.

In his rambling speech after the UNSCR 2334 vote, Kerry suggested that Jerusalem can be kept united while serving as the capital of two sovereign states (a somewhat paradoxical proposition). Soft and fuzzy phrases about the future of Jerusalem avoid a simple truth: no Israeli government in the foreseeable future will take the knife to a living city, relinquishing the rights of the Jewish people in the very place that has been the focus of their aspirations for millennia.

Some changes in the line of sovereign control are possible in outlying areas, but that is not what the Palestinians have in mind. What they want is a dramatic outcome that will confirm, retroactively, that the Jews never had a birthright in their own homeland and holy city. This would, they believe, break the moral back of the Zionist endeavor as a whole. This is precisely why it will not happen.

The language of UNSCR 2334, and the atmospherics (if not the relatively harmless results) of the Paris Conference, encourage such unrealistic expectations among the Palestinians. The sooner they are disabused of these notions the better. A proposition that hinges on the dismemberment of Jerusalem or the forcible removal of hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes is a nonstarter. The Palestinians will need to grasp this premise if the two sides are ever to settle down to the business of negotiating a workable and implementable agreement.

The embassy issue is an opportunity to get back to basics. The promulgators of 2334, Kerry in his speech, and the European foreign ministers (with the exception of Boris Johnson) who participated in the Paris conference proceeded from the assumption that their object was to save the two-state solution. They were, in fact, doing the opposite.

As a majority of Israelis have said again and again, in surveys and through the electoral process: a Palestinian state may be possible, but not on Palestinian terms. When much of the world, including the outgoing US administration, buys into the Amr Musa and Saeb Erekat school of negotiations – which posits that Israel, the aggressor, has no right to an inch beyond the 1949 armistice lines, and a total withdrawal, removal of all Israelis living there, partition of Jerusalem, and the right of return are the "objective requirements of peace" – a dose of cold water is in order.

None of that is what UNSCR 242 requires. Nor is it what any true reading of the events of 1948 and 1967 would warrant. A symbolic act such as the establishment of a US Embassy, or at least the installation of some of its functions, in (West!) Jerusalem should help to undo this unrealistic set of demands and expectations.

It would also send a clear signal to the Palestinians, including key members of Mahmoud Abbas's own Fatah, that their outlandish threats of violence – "we shall open the gates of hell" upon America – will not work, and will no longer be tolerated from an entity that enjoys generous US aid. To validate such threats, as Kerry did, is to succumb to the same mistake that President Clinton made in 2000, when he responded frantically to the Palestinian burst of violence. In effect, Clinton signaled to Arafat that his strategy of violence had worked, and he could now extract better terms than what he had been offered at Camp David a few months earlier. The results were sad but predictable, as they would be if Washington again bows to such coercion.

Having said all this, it would be wise for the incoming administration to build a framework or package of measures that would help Palestinian and Arab pragmatists (there is nothing to hope for from the radicals) explain why it would be better to swallow this bitter pill. After all, this is about moving the US embassy to West Jerusalem, which even the Palestinians acknowledge is part of Israel. The US could increase their material rewards, as Israel just did on the water issue. It could sustain the right of waiver over the suspension of aid, which seems likely to flow from new legislation on PA funding for terrorists and their families. It could – indeed must – give Egypt and Jordan a much firmer level of support than what they came to expect from Obama.

Above all, by forging a new and robust interaction with the key Gulf states based on a much more aggressive stance towards the Iranian regime, the incoming administration would greatly reduce the likelihood of an "explosion" in the Arab world. If done right, and in the right context, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem might bring home to the PA the sheer futility of their strategy of threats and of international gatherings and impositions.

*Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, a senior research associate at the BESA Center, is former deputy for foreign policy and international affairs at the Israel National Security Council. He is also a member of the faculty at Shalem College.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Out with the Old, In with the New

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 395, January 16, 2017, by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror*:

trump obama

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: President Barack Obama has eroded the US's superpower status and is leaving behind a far more dangerous world than the one he inherited. A Trump administration gives Israel reason to be optimistic, although it must bear in mind that he is a very shrewd businessman.

One cannot help but admire the American public, which eight years ago elected Barack Obama as the country's first African-American president. The genuine elation and joy in the streets of New York City, where I was when he was sworn in, reflected the change American society had undergone.

Obama assumed office with a very solid worldview. He believed many of the challenges the US was facing globally stemmed from its forceful conduct and ability to impose its will on other nations. In his view, many of Washington's international failures stemmed from the fact that it had not tried to improve ties with its adversaries.

This drove Obama to visit the Middle East – not including Israel – in 2009 and deliver his famous Cairo speech. He believed that addressing the people from the heart would be reciprocated. This was also the logic that drove his attempt to promote a new rapport with Russia.

Eight years later, it is hard to say the world has repaid Obama in kind. The world is not a better, more democratic place; nor does it favor the US in any way. This is especially true in the Middle East, but the sentiment is shared elsewhere as well.

Moreover, the US rollback on its role in different regions has made its allies wary of their aggressive neighbors. This is so much the case that in some countries, there has been talk of replacing the dwindling American nuclear umbrella – by which the US, as a nuclear power, guarantees the protection of its non-nuclear allies – with independent atomic abilities. Should this become reality, it would spell a horrific nuclear race.

Obama is leaving behind a world far more dangerous than the one with which he was entrusted as leader of the most powerful country on earth – a title he managed to seriously compromise.

As far as Israel-US relations go, the eight-year Obama administration has been complex. On the one hand, Israel had a sympathetic ear in Washington with regard to its security needs. The landmark $38 billion defense aid package signed with the US, and the fact that Israel, of all nations, was the first to receive the state-of-the-art F-35 fighter jet, speaks to the American commitment to the Jewish state's security for decades to come.

The relationship between the Israeli and American intelligence agencies continues to be excellent, a state of affairs that would not be possible without direction from the White House. Israel has also received vital US backing in the international arena more than once.

Still, Washington and Jerusalem were at odds under Obama on four important issues.

The first was nuclear nonproliferation
In 2010, the administration failed to keep its promise to Israel and gave in to Arab demands for supervision of Israel's alleged nuclear capabilities. This was done as part of the American effort to maintain consensus at that year's nuclear nonproliferation conference in Vienna.

The Americans may not have explicitly admitted that they broke a promise to Israel in this regard, but they understood that it was perceived that way by Israel and the world. Judging from the limited foreign reports on the issue, Israel's complaints were justified. The US ultimately took action to help Israel overcome the difficulties incurred as a result of that mistake, but that blatant breach of promise made a dent on the collective Israeli consciousness, even if its overall effect has dimmed.

The second issue is the settlement enterprise
The outgoing administration turned settlement construction in Judea and Samaria into the key issue with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It was nothing short of an obsession, and the issue by which any progress would rise or fall.
Washington refrained from pressuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in any way, even when he failed to agree to the 2014 US framework to reignite the talks. The US deemed Abbas too politically weak to be pressured, while any Israeli construction, in either Judea and Samaria or Jerusalem, was denounced as an obstacle to peace. The administration thereby lost an opportunity of possibly historic proportions to advance the peace talks, while the Israeli government – and a Likud government at that – was more willing than ever to promote it.

The dissonance in the administration's responses was so jarring that it eroded the effectiveness of US condemnation, as the majority of the Israeli public, and some around the world, began to perceive it as one-sided, unjust and unwise. Moreover, the way in which the Obama administration handled the issue of settlements made Abbas climb up a very tall tree. It will be hard for him to climb down from such a height toward future negotiations.

UN Security Council Resolution 2334 denouncing the settlement enterprise, passed in the last month of Obama's presidency, has only made things worse, and is likely to stall negotiations even further. The outgoing president appears to have decided to hinder his successor as much as possible, even at the expense of an interest he allegedly wants to promote. For anyone seeking to advance the peace talks, UNSCR 2334 is counterproductive. If anything, it will be remembered as a low point, the "revenge" of an administration purporting to be analytical and calculated.

Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry's Middle East vision speech, warning that Israel's settlement policies placed the two-state solution in "serious jeopardy," only exacerbated the feeling that the US administration's obsession with the issue has lost all proportion and clouded common sense.

The third issue of discord between Jerusalem and Washington was the Iranian nuclear program.
Some would say this disagreement culminated in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress in March 2015, perceived as an affront to Obama on his own turf. Truth be told, the crisis was of the administration's making.

Contrary to how things are generally handled between allies, the White House made a conscious choice to deceive Israel and conceal the fact that it was holding intensive nuclear negotiations with Iran – an issue that has direct bearing on Israel's very existence.

This move was especially jarring as it involved a dramatic shift in US policy, which resulted in a very bad deal. Even those who believe the deal is solid have a hard time justifying the winding road walked by the US administration to reach it – even more so when some top officials within the administration itself thought it was wrong to hide the talks from Israel.

Choosing this path cost the US Israel's trust, good will, and, to an extent, professional assistance, which could have reduced the scope of error inherent in the agreement. The American claim that things were kept secret for fear of a leak on the Israeli side does not hold water, as nothing had been leaked from intimate Israel-US talks on the issue prior to the US's deviation off course.

The new reality presented by the administration required Netanyahu to outline Israel's position in the clearest possible way, especially before the American public, which is Israel's most important friend. Issues pertaining directly to the fate of the Jewish people must be addressed out loud, and it is right to do so in the highest seats of power. As Kerry himself said, friends must tell each other the truth.

Netanyahu had to consider that the bad deal inked between world powers and Iran might one day require Israel to use force to stop the Islamic Republic's nuclear program from developing military dimensions. He had to lay the moral groundwork that would justify such extreme measures.

This need stemmed from the change in US policy, which went from demanding that Tehran relinquish any nuclear ability to deferring the development of such abilities by 15 years at most, and allowing Iran to continue to develop the next generation of centrifuges and missiles without interruption.

Top US officials stress that the quality of defense ties is proof of the Obama administration's strong support of Israel, but to the president's opponents, it sounds more like an effort to justify undercutting Israel on the Palestinian issue and on Iran's nuclear program.

The fourth issue at odds is the chaos in the Middle East
This was particularly evident after the 2011 ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, when the Obama administration favored the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Morsi as the representative of authentic sentiments among the Egyptian people over the military's countercoup.

Israel preferred Egypt not be ruled by the radical ideology propagated by the Muslim Brotherhood, even if the alternative was Gen. Abdel Fattah Sisi, who maintains an iron grip on Egypt as president. In this case, the lack of consensus between Washington and Jerusalem over the dangers of political Islam was at the heart of their dispute.

The American approach is ideological, in that it refuses to recognize that radical Islam is an authentic side of Islam. The very phrase "Islamic terrorism" was stricken from the politically correct vocabulary employed by Washington during the Obama years.

As to the incoming administration: 
as far as one can understand its positions on these issues, it appears that with regard to settlement construction and Iran's nuclear program, Israel is likely to find a far more sympathetic ear.
Many of Trump's advisers understand that it is not the settlement enterprise that has prevented Abbas from resuming negotiations with Israel, so there is no point in locking horns over that issue. 
Instead, efforts should focus on measures that could reignite the peace talks – if that is even possible. Abbas will have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. He will have to take concrete steps, from halting the Palestinian Authority's financial support of terrorists' families to eliminating the incitement encouraged by Ramallah.

In this context, it is very important that Trump fulfill his campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This would be a clear signal of US commitment to Israel and recognition of Jerusalem (or the west side of it at least) as its capital. After the outgoing administration's stunt at the Security Council and Kerry's settlement speech, the decision to move the embassy to the Israeli capital will carry even greater significance.

With regard to Iran, many in the incoming administration seem to believe the nuclear deal is as bad for the US as it is for Israel. 
The US is expected to pursue three paths of action: exhausting measures outside the framework of the agreement, such as imposing sanctions on the Iranian missile program and over the fact that it supports terrorism; holding Tehran to the letter of the agreement far more adamantly than did the outgoing administration; and collaborating with Israel on options by which Iran would be unable to pursue nuclear weapons after the deal lapses, even if that means reopening the deal.

It is not up to Israel to push for the annulment of the dangerous Iran deal, to which the outgoing administration committed itself. The US must do so to serve its own interests. Moreover, Iran is a dynamic force in the Middle East, one in the midst of tightening its control over an axis stretching from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. Unless Tehran is stopped, most of the Arab nations east of the Mediterranean will fall under its influence one way or the other.

This would be a historic change that would seriously undermine America's traditional allies, pushing many Sunnis into IS-style radicalism. This is another issue where collaboration between the US and Israel would be key, and it could involve the Sunni Arab states seeking regional stability. It might even be possible to pursue a more far-reaching move that would see the Palestinians enter negotiations as well.

As a guiding principle, ties between Israel and the Trump administration will have to be based on Israel-US relations going back decades. The two will have to determine what new areas of collaboration would prove most beneficial to both.

Understandings will have to be reached to bring about a breakthrough in ties between the two countries. The cyber sphere is one area in which such understandings are likely to reached. This will not be the only area, of course, but Israel should focus its efforts on improving the issues most important to it and refrain from scattering its interests.

It is generally believed that once in office, Trump will break rules, abandon politically correct practices, and act from his gut, in stark contrast to his predecessor. Although it is too soon to judge, the incoming president's instincts seem to be more Israel-friendly than those of his predecessor – although we would be wise to remember that he is also a shrewd businessman.

*Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror is the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He is also a distinguished fellow at JINSA's Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Australia distances itself from Paris peace conference concluding statement

From the ABC (Australia), 16 Jan 2017:

Australia has distanced itself from the concluding statement of the Middle East Peace conference in Paris...

...A spokesperson for the office of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the ABC that
"while the Australian Government was represented at the Paris conference, this does not mean we agree with every element of the final statement".
"The most important priority must be a resumption of direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians...."
Australia was the only country to speak out publicly against the US-backed security council resolution on settlements last month, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling it "one sided" and "deeply unsettling".

The Foreign Minister's office says Australia does not agree with every element of the final statement. (ABC News: Ross Nerdal)

Washington effectively cleared the way for the resolution, which demanded an end to Israeli settlement building, prompting Israeli Government officials to direct harsh attacks against US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Ms Bishop noted at the time that Australia was not currently a member of the Security Council and was not eligible to vote on the resolution, but indicated the Federal Government did not support the contentious move.

The US position was seen as a parting shot at policy by US President Barack Obama, who has had an acrimonious relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and who has made settlements a major target of peace efforts that have proven ultimately futile.

In response, Mr Netanyahu said Israel did not need to be lectured to by foreign leaders and that he looked forward to working with US President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to pursue more pro-Israeli policies.

"We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter on December 29.

Britain has 'reservations' about conference outcome
Britain said on Sunday it had reservations about the outcome of the conference in Paris, saying it risked "hardening positions".
"We have particular reservations about an international conference intended to advance peace between the parties that does not involve them — indeed which is taking place against the wishes of the Israelis and which is taking place just days before the transition to a new American president, when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement," a British Foreign Office statement said.
"There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace."

Britain had observer status at the conference. It did not back the final communique.

France fails to regain lost prestige

From JPost, 15 Jan 2017, by Herb Keinon:

France hosts a Purim Shpiel: a lamb survives 70 marauding wolves - a tribute to the Shepherd

French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault plays Haman at the opening of the Mideast "peace conference" in Paris, January 15, 2017. (photo credit:REUTERS)

There in Paris, inside the French Foreign Ministry, tables were set for representatives of some 70 countries, including more than 30 foreign ministers.

At the head of the hall was an elevated area with a podium, a single French flag and, in white letters against a blue background, the following was writ large: "Middle East Peace Conference, Paris – Sunday, January 15, 2017."

Yes, another Middle East "peace conference". Never mind that neither of the parties who are supposed to be making peace – the Israelis and the Palestinians – were present, another Paris peace conference was under way, nonetheless.

...Few expect [anything tangible] to emerge from Sunday’s event in Paris, especially given the fact that in five days there will a new president in the United States widely expected to object to this type of Middle East initiative so adamantly opposed by one of the concerned parties: Israel.

No, this conference is likely to be remembered along with some of the other international meetings in Paris, convened amid great fanfare, that led nowhere.

One such conference was the 2008 parley organized by then president Nicolas Sarkozy – the Union of the Mediterranean – that brought together leaders from some 40 countries around the Mediterranean, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad, who stood on the very same stage without speaking or looking at each other.

That conference, widely viewed then as one of Sarkozy’s vanity projects, led to nothing.

Sarkozy also was instrumental in establishing the Group of Friends of the Syrian People in 2012, which convened in a number of different locations, including Paris, to discuss the Syrian situation. That, too, has not been a resounding success.

Yet, the French were adamant in going ahead with Sunday’s parley, even though they obviously know that – with the absence of Israel’s participation and the emergence of the Trump administration in Washington – the likelihood of its success is very slim.

Why, then, go ahead with it at all? 

Firstly, because this is what the French do – they organize and hold international conferences.

Secondly, because the French feel a historic responsibility toward the Middle East – primarily toward Lebanon and Syria, but also toward Egypt and Israel. They do not see the Levant as a remote corner of the world, but rather a region to which they have strong historic ties and responsibilities.

Thirdly, because of domestic political considerations. And there are two distinct elements at play here.

French President Francois Hollande’s left-wing government has been consistently criticized by the Left for not being leftwing enough. After Hollande came to Israel in 2013, he was criticized inside his party for cozying up too much to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This conference shows the French Left that the government has not forsaken the plight of the Palestinians.

And there are also cold electoral calculations at play, as well.

The Muslim electorate is a significant voting bloc in France, and for a large part of that bloc, the Palestinian issue remains very important. This conference is a way of showing them that the issue is also important for the Socialist Party. Keep in mind that the French will be going to the polls in just a few months to vote in a new president, so the Muslim voting bloc will be particularly significant.

Finally, the French are hosting this conference because there remain few vehicles in the world that lift up a country’s international diplomatic stature – if only momentarily – than hosting a Middle East peace conference.

Paris has, over the last number of years, bet on all the wrong horses in the Middle East: Saddam Hussein in Iraq; Assad in Syria; Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian Authority; Hosni Mubarak in Egypt; and Rafik Hariri in Lebanon.

But hold a Middle East peace conference and maybe – just maybe – none of that will matter and some of that lost diplomatic prestige and luster can be regained.

Then again, maybe not.