WASHINGTON, DC—White House officials announced Monday that representatives from the U.S. will join those from Sweden, Russia, and the U.N. in the Mideast next week to sight-see, sunbathe, and mediate peace talks between Palestine and Israel.
"A few weeks ago, President Bush asked me to go to the West Bank and work on the road map to peace," an excited Secretary of State Colin Powell said. "There's absolutely no chance that these talks will ever work, but I was like, 'Free trip to the disputed zone? No way I'm gonna turn that down!'"
Powell said that, while the all-expense-paid trip is ostensibly to broker terms for a move toward the creation of a Palestinian state along with guarantees for a halt to attacks against Israel, he expects to have plenty of time "to just kick around and enjoy the area."
"Turns out we have talks all day Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday is almost completely open," Powell said. "The March 14 bombings at Ashdod Port supposedly have security crazy on alert, but I think I'll recruit a couple extra bodyguards, outfit a little six-vehicle convoy, and head on over to Gaza to check out the scene. The Strip is generally pretty chilled out during the week, I've heard."
Several of the more than two dozen diplomats slated to attend have said that they hold low expectations for the peace talks, but are looking forward to enjoying some free time in the exotic locale.
"A lot of people in the EU are angry with Washington policy-makers, claiming that Bush's endorsement of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip rejects the right of Palestinian refugees to return to disputed land now in Israeli control—but I don't care to take sides while on this trip," High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy for the EU Javier Solana said. "I heard Colin's going, and I figure, if Col's there, it'll be a good time. I'd like to sneak away with him some evening and find out how the remaining members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra sound."
"I hope they put us all up at the Dan Panorama hotel like they did last time," Solana added. "If it hasn't been razed by a stray missile, that is."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) applied to attend the negotiations, but his request was denied due to budget constraints.
"This sucks," Lugar said. "They're sending Solana but not me? I deserve to go so much more than that guy. Powell, okay, he's been around forever, but [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergey Lavrov gets to go? How'd Lavrov get in line ahead of me for this trip? I am so briefed on the situation with those state-sanctioned killings of [Hamas leaders] Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Colin had better bring me something back—some spent shell casings or one of those kitschy religious-fanatic posters."
Paula J. Dobriansky, State Department Undersecretary for Global Affairs, said that no offense was meant to Lugar, but the roster filled up very quickly.
"Everyone wants to get over there to see the historic mosque and temple architecture, taste the delicious Mediterranean food, and experience the local culture of the Middle East, no matter what protective body armor is required," Dobriansky said. "Jerusalem is supposed to be just gorgeous in the springtime. Everyone who makes it back here alive won't stop talking about it."
Although several U.N. delegates expressed skepticism about the outcome of the talks, their reservations did not dull their enthusiasm for visiting the attractions.
"These talks could theoretically be really important to the region, so I hope they go well," said Terje Roed-Larsen, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. "On the other hand, if negotations do break down, we can spend the week shopping in the couple of cool, out-of-the-way parts of Tel Aviv that are still accessible to tourists. And, well, should everything fall to pieces, it would be great to not have to worry about rushing through those 40 checkpoints to make it back in time for a meeting."
Bush will not attend the talks due to a previously scheduled trip to Baghdad to oversee the preparations for Iraqi sovereignty. According to an anonymous White House insider, Major General John Batiste has been instructed to use his command of the 1st Infantry Division to secure the area around the Samarra spiral minaret near Fallujah so the pair can get their photo taken in front of the ornate, historic building.