In an early entry, I submitted my skepticism about 1) Rice's trip, 2) the prospects for any kind of negotiating breakthrough, and 3) the long-term consequences of a treaty in which Israel makes serious concessions to a long-standing enemy that is at best unstable and at worst untrustworthy. I think my skepticism is well-founded, but I also hope I'm wrong.
But I'm wrong on the two first counts and right on the third, I'm effectively right on all of them. And therein lies the rub.
This is the scenario that worries me: the Quartet get the parties together, put pressure on both sides, an agreement is reached that makes both sides unhappy, but they go along with it, knowing that whomever is intransigent will get on the Quartet's shit list. Israel evicts its citizens from towns outside the 1949 armistice lines, Abbas has to impose his will on the Palestinians', teetering on the brink of a civil war. Borders are established, success is declared, someobody gets nominated for a Nobel peace prize. Self-proclaimed experts in armchairs applaud. Most everyone outside the area let's out a sigh of relief.
Then rockets start flying over the border into Israel, targeting Jerusalem suburbs, Netanya, Galilean kibbutzim. There is unrest among many Palestinians, who feel sold out. An election in Arab Palestine once again gives Hamas and other radical factions power. Terrorism gradually gives way to belligerency, under the pretext of provocation.
In Israel, hundreds of thousands of displaced former residents of the territories find an increasingly unified political voice, asking what good their sacrifice did. There's less talk of being good neighbors with the Palestinians and more about containing them. Borders are sealed, protests are filed, a new military doctrine is created to prevent Palestinian attacks on Israel. Egypt and Jordan feel the pressure, Palestinian groups orient themselves more toward Hizballah, and Palestinians start emigrating, just as Israeli Arabs find themselves torn between conflicting loyalties. International diplomacy is lost in the reality that two sovereign states with unambiguous borders are in a constant, low level conflict. Everybody is worse off, and an independent Palestinian state is no longer an ambitious goal, but a historical failure.
Both Abbas and Israel know this scenario (and it's not the worst conceivable) one well enough to make unreasonable demands from each other. Abbas knows, deep down inside, that Israel can not be defeated, that any kind of war will at best improve the Palestinian bargaining position only marginally, and that any scenario that puts real accountability on his people's shoulders is deadly. It is one thing to fight a heroic liberation struggle (even if it is neither heroic nor aimed at liberation, but what else is new?), it's another to start building a state and making peace with longstanding enemies.
I think that Rice, Blair, and the Quartet are naïve about the way these things play out, oblivious to the real historical lessons, altogether too hopeful about what Abbas will or can accomplish. Israel isn't an easy party, either; but what Israelis want is much closer to what the world wants.