September 2nd, 2010
10:35 AM ET

Letters to the President #591: 'A piece of the peace talks'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: The White House has a launched the latest effort to gain peace in the Middle East, and I have launched my latest letter to the president. Let’s see which one arrives first …

Dear Mr. President,

Good luck on the Mideast peace talks. I mean, what else can I say? I’m an optimistic guy. I always hope for the best. But considering the state of things in that part of the world, this seems like one of those wacky sports you see late at night on ESPN 5 where someone tries to jump a pool table while riding a bicycle backward down a ski hill. You know from the “get-go” that the chances of success are slim.

Now, I don’t fault you for trying. I mean, pretty much every modern president at some point takes a stab at this. They send out the call to the Israelis and the Palestinians. The staff tells reporters they know a long, difficult road is ahead, but they are optimistic.
Everyone gets together, photos are snapped, hands are shaken, the leaders go home with a whole new suitcase of frequent flier miles, and nothing changes.

I guess that’s not entirely fair. Little things change, but they are so small it’s like emptying a lake with a thimble. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a profound commitment from the two opposing sides to reach a true settlement. I have faith that both want peace, but they’ve fought for so long and allowed so many hard feelings to fester into pure hatred, that it seems impossible. What each side would require out of an acceptable deal is unacceptable to the other. So…deadlock.

Perhaps the best approach I’ve ever seen to getting around all that came when President Carter negotiated his Camp David Peace Accord between Egypt and Israel. He explained it to me once. He went back and forth between the two parties with a single document, allowing each to see and ponder and discuss the details in private. Each time changes were made, back the document went to the other party for approval and further modification. Back and forth, back and forth, until no more changes were made.

He had psychological profiles of the two leaders involved drawn up ahead of time, so he knew what might persuade them. He had polling units on the ground in both countries, so if a leader said “My people will never accept this,” he could show them otherwise. And even with all of that, he had to finally, privately and with great commitment make it clear that they simply could not walk away without a deal, or future generations - “our grandchildren” as he put it - would never be able to forgive them.

In other words, this is tough work. It has been tough for every president who has tried it, and don’t think for a minute you’ll just get lucky. If you are going to get a deal it will take every bit of your charm, intelligence, concentration and luck.

That’s why for most of America, I think the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians is like the Rubik’s Cube they have stuffed in a junk drawer at home; it’s interesting to take out now and then, but they don’t think it will be solved anytime soon.

Still, like I said, best of luck. I’m a pretty good negotiator, so if you need my help, give me a call. If nothing else I can bring over my Rubik’s Cube and we can pass the time while the argument unwinds.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Dr. Sayini Devarajan

    The US-led resumption of Middle East peace talks between Israel and Palestinians holds up the promise of a 'final status' agreement within a year. Must we assume that a two-state solution is deliverable by September 2011? Well, The US seems to have reached the end of it's tether. I understand that if after one year, no agreement is reached, then the US will impose a settlement (on a take it or leave it basis), based on existing United Nations resolutions. Europe will buy it , others will too.. so that's the incentive for both sides to agree. Israel is an occupying power, employing all the brutal techniques...racist behavior of an apartheid state. The notion of negotiating with such a regime is unrealistic!

    September 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm |