“Ripeness is all,” concludes Edgar in King Lear. I will leave it to Shakespeare scholars to decipher what he had in mind. But for diplomats and historians, understanding the concept of ripeness is central to their jobs: it refers to how ready a negotiation or conflict is to be resolved.
This may sound academic, but it is anything but. The United States and the three other members of the Quartet — the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations — are planning to convene many of the parties to the Israeli-Arab conflict at a meeting near Washington in November.
The problem is that the conflict is not even close to being ripe for resolution. Ignoring this reality will lead to failure, if not catastrophe.
Ripeness has several elements: there must be a formula for the parties involved to adopt, a diplomatic process to get them to that point, and protagonists who are able and willing to make a deal.
It is not clear that any of these conditions exist in today’s Middle East. Much has been said or written about what “final status” or peace between Israel and the Palestinians would look like, but important differences remain regarding borders, the status of Jerusalem and its holy places, the rights of refugees, the future of Israeli settlements, and security arrangements.
There is also a question of process. Who should be involved in negotiations? What issues should be on the agenda? What sort of activities, including violence and settlement activity, are to be precluded while negotiations take place?