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Friday, October 02, 2009

Negotiating over the shape of the table

I don't know how many of you are old enough to remember the Paris Peace Talks that were designed to bring about an end to the Vietnam War. With his term of office coming to an end in late 1968, Lyndon Johnson was determined to get substantive peace talks with North Vietnam going before he turned over the reins of power to Richard Nixon on January 20, 1969. But North Vietnam had different ideas.
The official talks still did not begin. South Vietnam raised a series of procedural issues, the most prominent of which were the particular use of flags and name plates, the speaking order of the participants, and the physical arrangement of the conference, including most notably the shape of the conference table. On the latter issue, the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front (NLF) insisted on a four-sided table to emphasize equality between the parties, while the United States and especially the GVN favored a two-sided arrangement that did not obviously give the NLF equal footing with the GVN. (250, 260, 264) On January 2, 1969, the North Vietnamese relented on their requirement that made flags and nameplates contingent upon the acceptance by the other side of a continuous round table. (268, 269) On January 7 Johnson sent Thieu a strongly worded message to desist from the "continued stalemate on present lines" that was undermining public support within the United States for South Vietnam. (276) Thieu continued to refuse to consider such a trade-off from his original position on the shape of the table. (277-279) Pressure on Thieu from Washington coupled with the involvement of Soviet diplomats eventually overcame this impasse. On January 13 the Soviet Ambassador in Paris directed his subordinate to propose a resolution: a round table with two smaller rectangular tables at opposite sides; no flags or nameplates; and speaking order arranged by the drawing of lots. (280, 281) Both the North Vietnamese and the American delegations agreed to this proposal on January 15, as did both South Vietnam and the NLF the next day. (283, 284) On January 18 the first meeting between the four parties, which focused solely on modalities for the substantive talks, was held. (286) The Johnson administration left office on January 20, 1969, with the knowledge that peace talks were finally underway.
Those talks may have been the diplomatic model for an exercise in futility. Until now.

Having been emboldened by the Obama administration's foolish effort to bring about a 'full settlement freeze,' the 'Palestinians' are continuing to refuse to engage in direct negotiations with Israel without that freeze. And Barry Rubin reports that President Obama does not have a lot of options.
So what are Obama’s options at this point?

Option 1: Go back to having a confrontation with Israel demanding it freeze construction and get nothing in return. That’s not going to happen.

Option 2: Criticize the Palestinian stand and pressure it (after all, the United States is providing all of its money or helping to raise it among allied countries) to go to talks. That’s not going to happen.

Option 3: Pretend everything is going well, have officials run around as if something is getting done, develop some new photo opportunities, and hope no one notices. Yep, that’s the one.

Here's how Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat put it: "There will not be Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in Washington. There will be parallel American-Israeli negotiations and Palestinian-American negotiations." That sort of sets things back to the way they were around 1990.

After nine months in office and after having declared it would hit the ground running on Israel-Palestinian issues and get peace very fast, the Obama Administration has achieved nothing. In fact, it has set back the process and is getting less done than the supposedly criminally passive Bush Administration.
Indeed. It looks like hope and change same.


At 9:38 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

There are no negotiations and there is no peace process. What's left is a Kabuki theater where all the parties go through the motions for the sake of appearances. Its all smoke and mirror, no substance.

There will not be a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians for decades.


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