Diplomacy is an art.
Diplomacy is often embroiled in a conflict of cultures.
Diplomacy is always punctuated with dramatic disagreements.
It is through the tortuous byways and entanglements and unspoken rules of diplomatic etiquette that regional and international differences are resolved and historic compromises emerge. In the end, the parties are equally disappointed, frustrated and satisfied. In the end, diplomacy works.
Everyone in international affairs knows these fundamentals of diplomacy. And that is exactly why the current on-the-table version of the Saudi Peace Plan so greatly surprises me. Why exactly?
Because the Saudi Peace Plan is being pitched as a turn-key program. Because with this Saudi Peace Plan it is all or nothing, take it or leave it. Since when is a diplomatic situation ever all or nothing? The entire point of diplomacy is compromise in order to achieve a mutually beneficial situation, a situation Game Theorists call "win - win."
Obviously, Israel has some serious problems with the proposal. The Right of Return and the absolutism of the return to pre-1967 borders are sore, sticking points. And despite that, Israel has said that they are willing to discuss the proposal because for Israel the idea of actually sitting down with other countries in the region and discussing the future and their joint fates is nothing less than compelling. Even if the parties disagree. Even if the parties walk out doors and slam their fists and threaten to end the talks. For Israel, formally, officially talking to countries in the region other than the few they already have ties with is about as good as it gets.
Israel is looking to expand its diplomatic circle. Israel is not looking for friends. Israel is looking for non-enemies. Israel is looking for diplomatic cohorts.
If Israel can speak to even one new country, that would be a tremendous step forward. Not only for Israel, for both those countries. For the Arab world it would be an opportunity to see that Israelis do not really have those proverbial horns, it would be an opportunity to realize that Israel is more than merely a dread, de facto reality.
It would, but it never will.
The Saudi Peace Plan is ultimately not about diplomacy. Ultimately, the Saudi Peace Plan is about cultural identity. The all-or-nothing -plan and the manner in which it has been presented is the give away. The Saudi Peace Plan is an unworkable and unrealistic proposal not because of content but because of presentation.
Don't believe me, listen to what the Saudis themselves are saying. The Saudi foreign minister has clearly framed his country's intentions and objectives and motives. Not accepting The Plan, he said, is tantamount to asking for war. He said: "That if Israel refuses, that means it does not want peace and it places everything back into the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war."
Powerful. Very powerful wordage. So why is it that according to Saudi thinking the only alternative to total acceptance of The Plan is war, the exact total opposite of The Plan. What about working out differences? Ironing out specifics? Mutual dialogue for the sake of pounding out a better proposal for all the parties? The Saudis have come so far in even proposing this plan, why are they sabotaging it from the outset?
The Saudi Peace Plan promises total normalization with all Arab countries. Saudi Arabia can't guarantee that. Saudi Arabia doesn't speak for all Arab countries. The Arabs cannot actually guarantee their end of the bargain. So instead of attempting to influence naysayer colleague countries, they set the bar so high that Israel will never accept the proposal.
The most recent Arab meeting to discuss The Plan had almost 100 percent Arab attendance. Everyone came, even the foreign minister of Iran. The only significant group missing was al Qaeda. And everyone decided to endorse The Plan. And everyone knew that Israel never could and never would.
Here's an interesting footnote to the meeting. Before the meeting the Iranian foreign minister held a joint meeting with Hamas' Palestinian Prime Minster Haniyeh and Fatah's Palestinian President Abbas.
Talk about being in cahoots. Talk about diplomacy, Arab Style.