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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Time for change in the Middle East?

Elliott Abrams says it's time for change in the Middle East. Specifically, he says that it's time for a change in the President's Special Envoy to the Middle East.
In May 2010, Senator Mitchell explained that a year of frustration and failure had not daunted him. He told a reporter, “You can’t take the first ‘no.’ I had 700 days of ‘no’ in Northern Ireland, and one ‘yes.’” By my calculation, on Christmas Day, the 700 days will be up, and perhaps Mitchell will acknowledge that it’s time for a change.

Even reporters long ago became tired of Mitchell’s Northern Ireland analogies, for that situation is as similar to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it is to, say, Sri Lanka. Sure, there are parties, there are mediators, there are negotiating rules such as “don’t lie” and “keep your word” and “prevent outside spoilers from ruining everything.” But at bottom, the situations are different. By the mid-1990s, IRA and Unionist leaders were ready for a deal, but some mediator needed to bring these parties — strangers and enemies to each other — together. By contrast, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators know each other well and have met scores of times since the Oslo talks began 20 years ago. They’ve attended each other’s family weddings and birthdays and anniversaries, and any American who meets them sees immediately their easy camaraderie. They don’t need us to bring them together, for the problem isn’t getting talks started. It is that their views of how to solve the conflict are different, and the most one side believes it can offer is less than the least the other thinks it can accept.

One of the lessons Mitchell should have learned is that when two parties have negotiated and are basically ready to go at it again, preconditions are poison. They are likely to prevent even a start to negotiations. Yet the very first thing he did in the Middle East was to impose the precondition that all Israeli construction, in Jerusalem as well as in West Bank settlements, be frozen. This precondition had never been raised before — not by Egypt or Jordan, and not by the Palestinians — and it was immediately obvious that Netanyahu would reject it. And that he did. But by raising it, Mitchell made it impossible for Abbas and his team to get to the table: How could they let Mitchell be more Palestinian than the Palestinians? How could they compromise on construction when the Americans were being adamant?

As we approach the second 700 days, it is fair to ask the president for a rethink of this failing approach.
Read the whole thing.

I disagree. It's not that I'm enamored of Mitchell - I'm not. But I don't believe that Mitchell is the problem.

The problem is the Obami's approach - an approach that has assumed that Israel has only to give and the 'Palestinians' only to receive. The problem is that when the President was on shaky ground with Israeli Jews before he ever took office, he compounded the problem by starting his administration with a splashy appeal to the Muslim world - an appeal that has gone unanswered.

I don't believe peace is possible here right now - except for the relative quiet maintained by the status quo. The 'Palestinians' have yet to signal that there is a single concession they are willing to make.

I believe that the Obami should fold up shop, give the parties the White House's phone number and tell them to call when they're ready to talk. Just like Bush I, except this time with the onus on the 'Palestinians' - who were offered everything and gave nothing in return - and not on Israel. I don't expect Obama to do that. After all, there's a 'fierce moral urgency' to establishing a 'Palestinian state' during his first (and hopefully last) term. So I guess we'll have two more years of ups and downs in which nothing is accomplished, whether Mitchell keeps his position or whether it goes to Dennis Ross or someone else.

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At 11:12 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Nothing will happen. Whoever is the special envoy will be cooling his heels. But no one expects an agreement to happen next year, in Obama's first term or in our lifetime.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Menorah said...

Just remember, Mitchell's mother is Lebanese.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Hatfield said...

I agree with your point except....do you think there will ever be a negotiated solution? Will the Palis give up on Jerusalem, refugees, no Israeli military presence, stop incitement against Jews and Israel? Will they give these up for real? Could a negotiated solution be based on anything else? (Forgetting about Gaza entirely.)


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