Colin Powell’s Table Talk

Nobody is quite sure how the water bottles inside the negotiating room got spiked. Several witnesses reported seeing a young girl in the vicinity, wearing a kind of Victorian dress.

Shortly thereafter, a large brown envelope arrived at our offices. The return address read simply “Alice.” On the envelope was a childlike drawing of a water bottle, with a sign on it: “Drink Me!”

The enclosed documents purport to be a record of what transpired inside the Mideast negotiating room, presumably after the water bottles had been somewhat depleted. We can’t verify the authenticity of the “Alice” documents, but they certainly do make one wonder — and think.

SOS [presumably Colin Powell]: Gentlemen, thank you for agreeing to meet me. The President sent me here to…well, hell, I don’t know why I’m here, except to try to calm things down in the Middle East, so that our Saddam campaign can move forward.

CPA [presumably Yassir Arafat]: You mean you came with no new ideas, no plans for peace?

SOS: I have plenty of ideas, Mr. Chairman; it’s my boss whose skull, shall we say, would make a nice echo-chamber.

PM [presumably Ariel Sharon]: To hell with your boss, then! He’s always telling me what he thinks I should do. Let’s just do this without him, let him see how it feels to be manipulated for a change.

CPA: You’re here, Mr. Secretary, so let’s do it. I have to have something to show my people when I leave this room, some reason for them to hope that things will change and that we won’t have to resort to our last desperate weapon, our bomb-wrapped human bodies, and face the reaction of this butcher’s military machine.

PM: You may call me a butcher, Arafat, but what are you but a corrupt piece of flesh, regarded as irrelevant by your own people, since they know you can’t lead them anywhere but to destruction and continued poverty.

CPA: Well, I WAS in danger of becoming irrelevant, but thanks to you, guess who’s back, beloved by the mulitudes — and not just Palestinians. You’ve turned me into a bloody hero, Sharon!

PM: And we Israelis, facing an Islamic onslaught to drive us into the sea, having our public places bombed day and in day out by human packages of TNT and nails — we are the ones regarded as the villains. Oy vey!

SOS: Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Chairman: This kind of exchange will get us nowhere. I’ve considered your proposal that we actually talk about something other than a mere cease-fire, and I’m willing to have a go at it. I figure I can’t lose: If we actually work something out, I come out smelling like a rose. If I’m fired by Bush for going way outside my mandate, I still have that rosy smell for making the attempt, and when I run for President, or Cheney dies and Bush has to name me VP, I have a readymade aura of someone who goes and gets things done. And, if it works, you fellas get peace. So, you’re right, let’s get to it.

PM: My military intelligence service keeps telling me, and I’ve finally come to believe it, that occupying the territories is not worth the price we pay trying to keep them in line, that attacking and attacking doesn’t get Israel any closer to peace and security. But it’s not only you and Arafat who have to bring something out of this meeting. My reputation is that of a hard-edged military man, no compromises. I’ve got to bring peace and it’s got to look like I reluctantly gave in to America’s arm-twisting.

CPA: Right, no photo ops of me and this guy shaking hands. It’s America’s plan. If it works, great; if not, I was forced into it also.

SOS: Nope. Agreements will only “take” if you are public about them — in Arabic and Hebrew, respectively — to your people. Otherwise, it’s too easy to back out. So, let’s try the first point and see where we are. Israel announces an end to the occupation of the territories promised to the Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza.

PM: Done. Once we debilitated the terrorist network, I was going to do it anyway.

CPA: You do that, Israel pulls back to its pre-1967 lines, we stop the bombings and shootings in Israel. My military advisers tell me the same thing: we simply can’t force the Israelis to disappear by bombing them and that our violence is an ineffective route to peace and security, and damages our image of victim in the world.

SOS: If Israel ends the Occupation, you can guarantee 100% control over your extremists, Mr. Chairman?

CPA: Can Sharon guarantee that his Zionist extremists will never fire on a Palestinian? I will do everything that I can do. Once it is clear that the movement toward peace is genuine and will yield positive economic results, support for the fundamentalist extremists will diminish to next-to-nothing. However, there always will be a few hotheads and crazies, and we will imprison them.

SOS: No, you will turn over to the Israelis those who carry out attacks on Israelis. And Sharon, similary you will turn over your violent anti-Palestinian extremists to the Palestinian government. Each side will deal with the other’s terrorists. That should reduce the level of violence pretty quickly.

PM: Clever, that. Done. What’s next?

CPA: We establish our Palestinian state on land that is contiguous, and economically and geographically viable.

PM: You can have the whole rocky pile, as far as I’m concerned.

CPA: And you will share the water, and help us with modern farming methods.

PM: Done, once the violence subsides. What’s next?

SOS: There is the matter of the settlements. They must go.

PM: Not all of them. Some of them are important for border defense.

SOS: The two independent states will be separated by a large moat, as it were, of bare ground, so each of you will be able to see and sense anybody approaching. The border and security details can be worked out.

PM: It won’t be easy to get the settlers to leave, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of people.

CPA: We’re talking several MILLION Palestinian refugees, who want to return to their old homes and fields. Many of those who wish to come back can use those abandoned settlements.

PM: You don’t know these settlers; they are crazier than I am. We will have to move some of them by force.

CPA: Good. It will give them a small taste of what we’ve been put through.

SOS: Sharon, you will do this.

PM: I didn’t hear a question-mark.

SOS: Sharon, you will do this. (pause) Question-mark.

PM: Done. And we will announce our ambassador to the new Palestinian state shortly after the official establishment of your new government, Arafat. But the PLO must formally renounce in its charter a desire to destroy Israel, and maps and textbooks must reflect the fact of Israel’s existence.

CPA: This will be done.

SOS: I’m not sure how we’ve managed to get so far in such a short time — there must be something in the water [ sounds of laughter ] — but let’s keep going. The taping machine is recording all the agreements. What’s next?

PM: Security. Above all, security. For both of our states. We’ve got to know we won’t be attacked by your government, by your terrorists, and you’ve got to feel secure you won’t be attacked by anybody from our side, soldiers or crazies.

CPA: International peacekeeping force, from Scandinavia or somewhere, with no emotional ties to either side. Shoot-to-kill orders — any unauthorized Israelis try to cross or fire across the border or fly gunships headed our way, or vice versa, the international force, similar say to what’s in Yugoslavia, shoots them. No messing around.

PM: Agreed. But we keep our weapons, just in case, along with the right of self-defense.

SOS: We’ll add an international adjudicating commission to the mix. Any security or other problems go to the commission first; they try to solve the problem first by contacting the two governments and seeing what can be arranged. If there’s still a problem, negotiations take place under their auspices. Arms reduction will come later.

CPA: Agreed.

PM: Agreed.

SOS: Right. Jerusalem. Shared by the two governments, overseen by the international adjudicating commission or some such body.

CPA: I think I can sell it, but it’ll be sticky. We’ve both made such a point of exclusive sovereignty over Jerusalem.

PM: Yes, but it can be agreed to.

SOS: Next.

CPA: Reparations. Israel has destroyed our towns, stolen our property, uprooted our trees, killed so many civilians and others. It must pay reasonable amounts to the aggrieved families, and to those who can’t return to their original homes, and so on.

PM: And your government must compensate for damage done on our side, for our civilians killed, property damaged and so on.

CPA: Agreed. Our staffs will work out the details of the compensation protocols. And the U.S. will help raise funds for this project.

SOS: Agreed. Gentlemen: The world will long remember what is transpiring here today. You will be celebrated across the globe and by your own peoples, hungry for peace and security.

PM: Not all our peoples. Arafat, I know you will be risking your life by carrying out what we’ve agreed to today. Sadat was assassinated for making peace with Israel. I admire your courage, Yassir.

CPA: And I know that the same right-wing Israeli extremists who assassinated Rabin might well be after you. I admire your courage, Ariel, and wish you well.

SOS: But the key point is that the great majority of both your peoples, longing for peace and security and progress, will see you as courageous, intelligent leaders. Should we take a break?

CPA: This is so much like a dream that I don’t want to risk waking up. Let us continue talking.

PM: I agree. As long as we are inside this room, in our current frame of mind, making this kind of progress, let us not risk losing the momentum, even for a moment.

SOS: I will call for food, more water — and chamber pots. [Sounds of loud laughter.]


The “Alice Documents” break off there. Again, there is no way at this point of judging the authenticity of what is alleged to have been agreed to. But, with the right leadership from Secretary of State Powell, and with the right attitude of the two combatant leaders, it could be possible. #

Bernard Weiner, a playwright and poet, was the San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic for nearly 20 years. A Ph.D. in government & international relations, he has taught at various univerities.

BERNARD WEINER, Ph.D., is co-editor of The Crisis Papers, has taught at various universities, and was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.