In late August and September 2010, when direct negotiations seemed at last on the verge of replacing proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, speculation ran high in the Obama administration that face-to-face meetings between the two negotiating teams, hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, could at last produce an accord of enduring substance. Among several veterans of Middle East diplomacy, Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, was explicit in his optimism that the breakthrough moment was at hand, writing in The New York Times that "the negotiating environment is better suited to peacemaking today than it has been at any point in the last decade." In view of Israel's on-and-off settlement construction in the West Bank, however, and the frequent postponements of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, it is fair to ask if such optimism is really warranted.
Indeed, it is worth recalling that hardly ever in modern history have undersized nations whose relations with their neighbors have been drenched in rancor and blood managed to negotiate successfully more than interim cease-fires or armistices with one another. More frequently, and however unwillingly, these minor actors have accepted the initiatives of great powers with vested interests in acting as their protégés' advocates and guarantors and in constraining small states' irredentist and territorial ambitions.
For precedent, one may hark back to the sequence of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century great-power conclaves -- of London, Paris, and Berlin, among others -- that established the independence or guaranteed the security of countries as diverse as Greece (1829), Serbia (1856), and Bulgaria and Romania (1878), or to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, which sculpted an aggregation of European successor states and Middle Eastern mandates from the debris of the prewar empires. Similarly, in the wake of World War II, the United Nations selectively acknowledged or postponed the demands of postimperial claimants to diplomatic recognition.
Which of this fractious heterogeneity of races and cultures, of ethnic and religious communities, ever negotiated their sovereignties or autonomies