Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hillary Clinton's new strategy for peace sounds a lot like the old one

Last Friday American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lamented the failure of the first 18 months of the Obama peace process and explained the new direction the administration intends to take in order to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Clinton's speech was illuminating in that it showed the total lack of vision of the U.S.-mediated process since Obama took office and demonstrated that the administration is still making things up as they go along.

This is not a peace process reset. This is simply a transparent effort to throw up a facade and avoid the media from reporting what has transpired as a total collapse which would bring into question the continued viability of the two-state solution. Make no mistake, what has happened with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is a total collapse that should cause us to question whether U.S.-mediated negotiations can ever result in a final two-state solution.

The U.S. has been pursuing the same peace
process strategy since Hillary Clinton looked
like this. Seriously.
The Obama administration has apparently dropped the peace process on Clinton's desk and George Mitchell is still eyes on the ground, responsible for the actual negotiations. According to Clinton, the new old strategy will consist of the U.S. pursuing indirect negotiations with Mitchell shuttling between them. This is piece for piece exactly what the administration set into motion 18 months ago and which failed to result in any meaningful breakthroughs. The only difference between now and the start of Obama's presidency is that the U.S. will stop pressing Israel over settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite the fact that the this was the only smart component of Obama's doomed strategy.

Clinton has promised that, in contrast to the indirect negotiations of 18 months ago, these shuttle talks will focus on substantive issues such as borders, the status of Jeruslaem, refugees, and settlements. This statement begs the question of what the old talks were even focused on. Why was the administration even talking to the parties and attempting to get them to talk if they were not going to bother to focus on issues that actually cause this conflict. The more the administration talks about the "new" strategy the more terribly planned and executed the "old" strategy sounds.

Furthermore, Clinton's assertion that the U.S. will not bother Israel over settlements (despite the fact that the administration and Clinton herself see settlements and their growth as obvious obstacles to peace) is contradictory to her statements that settlements are one of the core issues. According to Clinton the indirect negotiations must include discussions about the ever-expanding settlements but cannot include discussion of stopping them from ever-expanding while the negotiations are going on. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fateh party leaders reject negotiations with Israel without a stop to settlement expansion. Despite Abbas' seemingly hard assertions, his announcement is certainly vague enough to allow him to continue to repeat the mantra ad infinitum while still sending his negotiating team to take part in shuttle negotiations with George Mitchell.

The "new" strategy's lack of focus on Israeli settlements also shows the Obama administration's refusal to acknowledge the errors learned from the Camp David process. In the immediate aftermath of that failure, American negotiator Aaron David Miller lamented that the U.S. had far too often acted as Israel's lawyer instead of an impartial mediator and Israeli and American negotiators had failed to fully appreciate how important stopping settlement growth was to the Palestinians.

To wrap up, the Obama administration has proposed a "new" strategy for Middle East peace that hinges on engaging the two parties in indirect talks with Special Envoy George Mitchell conducting the shuttle diplomacy. Eventually Mitchell hopes to induce the two parties to begin direct negotiations. The U.S. will refrain from pressing the Israelis on settlement expansion, despite the fact that this growth is of critical concern to the Palestinians. Why anyone, including the American administration, thinks this will work is beyond me. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, I have a sneaking suspicion that everyone involved in this plan is insane.

Links:
New York Times, Haaretz

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