The broken pottery is being scooped up in the wake of Joe Biden’s Israel visit. We are told that there is a “huge debate” going on now within the administration:
Administration officials said Thursday that while Mitchell is still slated to return to the region next week to try to salvage the proximity talks, there is a “huge debate” inside the administration “about what to do.” Part of Biden’s purpose in the trip was to reassure Israelis about the U.S.’s traditional commitment, and much of his speech in Tel Aviv was devoted to that theme.
So that didn’t really work out as planned, it seems. But, of course, the peace-process cottage industry sees this as an opportunity to — you guessed it! — push Israel into talks with the Palestinians: “In Washington, some experts said the settlements episode could give Washington leverage to make Netanyahu himself sign off on any housing decisions regarding contested East Jerusalem — and to push both him and the Palestinians to avoid any further such provocations in Jerusalem while proximity talks are under way.”
Well, there is no dissuading some who have devoted themselves to a process that is increasingly divorced from reality. It defies logic to think that an acrimonious relationship between the U.S. and Israel can help promote the peace process. It was, one fondly recalls from the George W. Bush days, only when the relationship between the two countries was robust, respectful, and warm that the Israeli government was emboldened to make concessions — on check points, settlements, and Gaza itself.
Aaron David Miller, no critic of the peace process, is a bit more in touch with reality than the unnamed “experts.” All of this he rightly sees as a giant non-starter and no way to run Middle East policy:
Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. As frustrated as the president and vice president may be with Israel, any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran — particularly now, with sanctions in the works. . . . Moreover, Obama now knows the settlements issue is a dog’s lunch. He can’t win — particularly when it involves Jerusalem. No, the smart money is on Obama’s keeping his powder dry, for now. Odds are that he will focus, instead, on getting the indirect talks launched, while he thinks about how to bridge the gaps on the core issues, including borders, security, refugees and, yes, Jerusalem.
“Condemning” Israel is an odd way to keep his “powder dry.” But Miller is right: the Obami are never going to win a standoff, especially a public one, with Israel over its eternal capital. And so, once again, the Obami are left with bruised feelings all around and no viable gameplan. It makes one long for smart diplomacy.
The Israelis and Palestinians will, at some point, have to sit down directly. But the history of successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking demonstrates that every agreement that lasted — with the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty — came about through U.S. mediation.