as we wait to know what the "conclave bird" is trying to tell us. (As apparently we will soon know.)President Obama will travel to the Mideast next week and the following pieces of advice have been given:Rashid Kahlidi: "If the objectives of the entire peace process are not ending the occupation, removing the settlements and providing for real Palestinian self-determination, then what is the purpose of pretending to restart it?"Ari Shavit: "The New Peace will be very different from the Old Peace. There will not be grandiose peace ceremonies in Camp David or at the White House, no Nobel Prizes to be handed out. The New Peace does not mean lofty declarations and presumptuous vows, but a pragmatic, gradual process whereby the New Arabs and the New Israelis will acknowledge their mutual needs and interests. It will be a quiet, almost invisible, process that will allow Turks, Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis to reach common understandings. The New Peace will be based on the humble, pragmatic assumption that all the participants must respect, and not provoke, one another, so that conflict does not disrupt the constructive social reforms that all seek to promote."Tom Friedman: "President Obama leaves for Israel next week. It is possible, though, that you havent heard because it is hard for me to recall a less-anticipated trip to Israel by an American president. But there is a message in that empty bottle: Little is expected from this trip not only because little is possible, but because, from a narrow U.S. point of view, little is necessary. Quietly, with nobody announcing it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has shifted from a necessity to a hobby for American diplomats. Like any hobby building model airplanes or knitting sweaters some days you work on it, some days you dont. It depends on your mood, but it doesnt usually matter when that sweater gets finished. Obama worked on this hobby early in his first term. He got stuck as both parties rebuffed him, and, therefore, he adopted, quite rationally in my view, an attitude of benign neglect. It was barely noticed." Friedman suggests some questions that Obama might put to the Israelis he meets.
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.