In The Mideast, Giving Peace (Another) Chance

Israelis and Palestinians have always been better at making peace-deal promises than following through on them. As the latest peace conference gets underway this week in Annapolis, Md., Palestinians are pressing Washington to appoint a full-time monitor who would be tasked with assessing whether the two sides are living up to their promises on security and a settlement freeze in the West Bank, according to a Palestinian official involved in the process. The official, who did not want to be named discussing internal negotiations, said Palestinians wrote the issue into an early draft of a document that was to be approved in Annapolis. "The U.S. will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitments of both sides of the Roadmap [an American blueprint for reaching a peace deal between the Palestinian Authority and Israel]," the Palestinians wrote. But Israel balked at the idea, at least initially—just one of the disputes that prevented negotiators from agreeing on a joint declaration last week. (Some of the disputes were more substantive than others: one involved whether to call the declaration a "statement," as Israel wished, or a "document," which Palestinians preferred.)

The Bush administration has not had a permanent envoy assigned to the conflict since it drafted the Roadmap in 2003, and the results have been telling. Although the plan called for a halt to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank—the heart of the future Palestinian state—the Jewish population there has since grown by nearly 20 percent, according to Israeli government data. In the past year, the number of West Bank settlers increased 5.8 percent compared with Israel's overall population growth of 1.8 percent. On the Palestinian side, a monitor would help ensure that President Mahmoud Abbas makes a genuine effort to crack down on militants, and not just those from his political rival Hamas. Israelis complain, for example, that while Palestinian security forces arrested members of Abbas's own Fatah group in September for plotting to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the suspects were then released, only to be rearrested later under pressure from Israel. "Unless the administration is prepared to get into the monitoring game and hold each side accountable, commitments will not be fulfilled," says Aaron David Miller, a former Mideast negotiator who's now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Miller says a monitor must have enough clout to be capable of humiliating both sides into compliance. As an example, he mentions James Baker, the former secretary of State who has a record of pressuring Israel on settlement activity. But Baker probably has too much stature; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might worry that he would overshadow her. (Asked recently whether the State Department would appoint a special envoy, a senior administration official said that Rice fills the role herself—though critics say she has too much on her plate to engage in real-time monitoring.) Another person whose name comes up as a qualified candidate is Edward Djerejian, who served as ambassador to Israel and Syria and now runs Baker's Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Texas. "You have to have an envoy who pushes forward the issues," Djerejian told NEWSWEEK. But he said he had not been approached about the subject, perhaps leaving the two sides to bicker alone over their statements. Or were they documents?