MidEast Camp David Reunion at UN in New York?

A reunion of the dispersed Camp David participants will take place in New York during the first week of September. The venue will be at United Nations Headquarters, to be pursued elsewhere as required. To be precise, on the morning of Wednesday September 6th, President Clinton, Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat are scheduled to address the millennium summit, a three-day gathering of heads of state and governments. That will be exactly one week before the 13th of September, the date indicated by Mr. Arafet for the declaration of a "Palestinian State". The three will certainly have to meet in whatever format, but certainly during that session and at the luncheon given by the Secretary General for visiting dignitaries.

At Camp David in July the parties left without agreement, but did not walk out of the negotiating process. President Clinton certainly did not give up. Political carnivals in the U.S. with two national conventions have given the parties a dual opportunity to mobilize their negotiating resources and explore their strategic traffic lights. Despite political shadow boxing, a generally controlled situation in the region and toning down of media rhetoric reflected a common will to allow for the possibility of agreed arrangements.

An outcome of Camp David was the eventual recognition that more groundwork was requires and more players will have to be involved. Jerusalem, for example, is not only a municipality with zoning problems, nor merely a political competition between Israeli and Palestinian politicians. It is also an emotionally charged cultural, religious and historical symbol least for Muslims, Jews and Christians in the world. For three officials, however important their roles may be, to decide its fate in a secluded Maryland retreat hopelessly optimistic. The right of return for Palestinians concerns also other countries hosting substantial visitors like Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Countries like Canada and Japan may be ready to play a role in resettlement or financing, but it is the position of the Palestinians and countries concerned that initially matter. That is linked to an agreed settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute when a known axiom would apply: no war without Egypt, but no peace without Syria.

To break the cycle, therefore you must widen the circle. The current preparatory period seems to explore the most effective course possible. Hence the value and the venue of the September reunion. The presence of other leaders would certainly help. Among those speaking that same morning will be King AbdullahII of Jordan and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It will be interesting to note the head of special delegation from Syria who will also address the same morning. So will the Presidents of Micronesia, Iceland and Belize but that is another matter. Actually, that violated speaking time, when some heads of state would feel free to have their point "bilaterals"that is negotiating in specially arranged locations outside The General Amnesty Hall. The Iranian President who incidentally chairs the current session of the Islamic Conference will speak in the afternoon of the same day. That means he will share lunch at least with the others, where tables will be spread conveniently to join or separate keen or unwilling parties. Also present, although speaking the following day, will be President of Egypt, the original Camp David partner, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, President of the Committee on Jerusalem established by the Islamic Conference, the new emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad whose open lines with varied parties helped mediate a wide variety of conflicts. In case required, the Prime Minister of Norway host of the Oslo accord, will be on board. The Secretary of State of the "Holy See", The Vatican, will be there too. So will the Algerian President Boutaflika who headed the session in 1974 during Yaser Arafat's first UN visit. He, and his country, maintained very close relations with the Palestinian leadership while both now enjoy excellent relations with United States. Of course, Russia is an official co-sponsor of the Middle East peace talks and President Putin will be there while Mr. Churac, particularly as current President of the European Union will not miss such an opportunity. The British were the mandatory power in Palestine and may contribute with some repair work.

Obviously, all these personalities will not hold one gathering on the subject. But their presence on the same premises and in the same or nearby hotels will provide the required proximity for one or more at a time to be discreetly or partially involved in specific cases when needed. Whether discussion will continue at the UN or elsewhere may become clearer after the initial intensive contacts. Political conditions may cause President Clinton to move it to the Washington areafor further efforts and undisputed credit.

The timing of the Noble Peace prize in October may be looming in the minds of several hopefuls, all of whom will be making prominent efforts and equal claims. Having the UN as the main venue will be an excellent key or cover for agreeing to certain compromises: the whole world not just Washington,Moscow, London or Paris made the request; the international community demanded that arrangement; how could one turn it down? Alternatively, the talks may falter with an agreement to keep talking. The UN meeting however will take its three-day course as planned. It was not supposed to deal with the situation in the Middle East, nor will it do so despite intensive talks in the corridors about it. The summit officially is a review of the UN's future role. Only its timing and the attendance of so many heads of state made it conveniently trendy, without any one party seeming to awkwardly seek a special meeting with others.

Whatever happens following the reunion of September 6th and its widened circle, such a unique opportunity in such a universal venue is a formidable response to those who sometimes ask what was the use of the United Nations.