Sunday, September 13, 2009
U.S. effort in Middle East appears doomed for now
The United States certainly may want it to happen, but the likelihood is extremely small that U.S. envoy George Mitchell will be successful in convincing negotiators for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to agree to resume peace talks. Mitchell said today that he hoped to wrap up an agreement in the next few days, according to the Reuters international news service. But that hope, if he really has it, seems unrealistic or, worse, dangerously naive. While Israel would love to be able to continue to relax its oppressive -- and expensive -- and oppressive military presence around territory it captured in 1967, and the PA needs statehood to fulfill the Palestinian people's desire for independence and to bolster its standing with its people, the two sides have rarely seemed further apart. The Palestinian Authority, of course, is insisting on a complete freeze of construction of housing for Israelis on land it wants for its state, including East Jerusalem. Israel, now led by a conservative prime minister, has offered to temporarily suspend future construction but refuses to stop building homes that are already planned or to give up any part of Jerusalem. "While we have not yet reached agreement on many outstanding issues, we are working hard to do so, and indeed the purpose of my visits here this week is to attempt to do so," Mitchell said Sunday with Israeli President Shimon Peres at his side, Reuters reported. Mitchell is scheduled to meet tomorrow with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau and Tuesday with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in his effort to put together a deal that would freeze settlements and require Arab nations to move towards diplomatic recognition of Israel. But a look at the issues here underscores the impossibility of Mitchell's assignment. Israel is talking about where to put the border between the two countries, the PA and most of the rest of the Arab world is still pretending that Israel doesn't exist. That's a very long road to travel in three days. It's going to take a diplomat on the same level as, say, the late Anwar Sadat, to achieve a breakthrough, and it appears, sadly, the Netanyahu and Abbas are simply not up to the task. As for Mitchell, he might have had an distinguished career as a politician but he will more easily be remembered for botching the Major League Baseball steroids investigation than anything else he accomplished as a public figure.