I don't pretend to know the first thing about the diplomatic efforts in the Middle East peace talks currently under way. All I know is that everyone seems to want the opposing factions to discuss potential solutions to their centuries-old differences. And I know that these efforts will fail as all others in the past have failed. But failure doesn't mean you quit trying. Not by any means.
So this week, officials from Saudi Arabia and Israel will sit down to discuss their differences and seek some solution to stop the ongoing bloodshed. Now how this factors into the war in Iraq and the standoff with Iran is too complex for me to fully understand. All I know is that religious differences have plagued that region since the beginning of time. If you can better explain the dilemma, have at it!
But here's the problem. Before the discussions even began this week, Saudi Arabia made it clear that there would be no handshake with the Israeli leaders at the end of the conference. It seems to me that if two sides can't even agree to a simple handshake, then the prospects for real progress are pretty darned dim.
President Carter once held a famous handshake photo op between the two sides. Back in the '70s, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin shook hands to stop conflicts between Israel and Egypt. And in the '90s, Billy Bob Clinton had Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shake hands. Arafat even agreed not to wear his pistol on that peaceful occasion.
So three handshakes later, the Middle East is still ground zero for religious differences and somehow - primarily because of our interest in oil and our defense of Israel - that equates to an on-going war involving our troops, etc. That's the best explanation I can muster right now.
Back to the handshake. Mankind puts much promise in a simple handshake. It doesn't always signal agreement but it normally does signal some level of civil discussion. If a conference ends with a fist in someone's mouth, that doesn't bode well for agreements. But a handshake is our touchy, feely way of signaling a civil discussion regardless of the level of agreement. Apparently even before it starts, this latest round of discussions will not end in a handshake.
Given this background, why even try to broker any type of peace accord? My guess - and it's only a guess - is that the future of mankind is at stake. Wouldn't it be ironic if that course were derailed by a handshake?