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Let’s Be Clear About What Peace Process Means

Many wonder just what the new President will do regarding the fictitious “peace process” in the Middle East.  He gave some indication (which is straight out of the Dennis Ross, post-Arafat playbook of “Lessons Learned at Camp David”) this week:

Whether or not the Gaza fight has ended, Mr. Obama has promised a quick start by his administration on Middle East diplomacy. In a meeting with The Post’s editorial board on Thursday, Mr. Obama said that he didn’t believe his administration would “have that luxury” of standing back from the deteriorating situation. Yet the president-elect appeared to have a healthy appreciation of the limits of what U.S. diplomacy might be able to accomplish. “That doesn’t mean we close a deal or we have some big, grand . . . Camp David-type event early in my administration,” he said. “The notion is not that the United States can dictate the terms of an agreement.”

Mr. Obama pointed out that “most people have a pretty good sense about what the outlines of a compromise would be.” The problem is political weakness on both sides. So, he said, his aim would be “to provide a space where trust can be built”; he cited the suggestion of former British prime minister Tony Blair “to build some concrete deliverables that people can see,” such as greater security for Israelis and economic benefits for Palestinians.

That is modest enough, and if we were dealing with the Middle East before the emergence of Hamas it might actually be a path to “peace.” But we should all be honest. This is a stall, a holding maneuver to throw crumbs to the international community, please the Arab powers who insist this sort of thing be done to quiet their own “Arab street,” and — most importantly — just buy time. But let’s be clear: this isn’t a “peace process.”

For “peace,” as Mort Zuckerman put it, “Hamas, in short, must be made to fail and be seen to fail. ” We’ll see if the Gaza war moves us in that direction. When Hamas is decimated and the lesson of its destruction internalized then a real peace process might begin. By signing off on the robustly worded Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and and the U.S. yesterday – which made clear the extent of the U.S.’s support for Israel, identified Hamas as the instigator of the violence, and the pointed to the continued support (read: from Iran) for Hamas as the continuing cause of the violence and state of war –the new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested she understands this as well.  That is a good thing indeed.

We are a long way from peace. But recognizing that is the first step.