Jen, in your perceptive post on the start of the “proximity talks” (which aren’t really talks and haven’t really started), you noted that the initial Mitchell-Netanyahu meeting produced the usual peace-process publicity: an announcement that the atmosphere was “good” and that the meeting was “productive.”
Asst. Secretary of State P.J. Crowley announced the “good and productive meeting” at yesterday’s daily press conference and then was unable to answer even rudimentary questions about it:
QUESTION: [Mitchell] met with Netanyahu today. What did they talk about? Are they any closer to — are you any closer to getting what you want out of the Israelis?
MR. CROWLEY: … I don’t have a particular readout from George Mitchell today, but we’re going to have multiple meetings on the Israeli side and multiple meetings on the Palestinian side. It’s hard to characterize after one of a series of meetings where we are.
QUESTION: Is it your view that the proximity talks have, in fact, now begun?
MR. CROWLEY: It is our view that George Mitchell is in the region. He is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials. … So at the end of these string of meetings, we’ll be in a position to characterize where we are. …
QUESTION: Just to go back, I mean, you’re saying you can’t characterize the meetings that Mitchell had with Netanyahu, but you did say that they were good and productive. I’m wondering what – on what basis you label them thus.
MR. CROWLEY: George Mitchell left the meeting and said they were good and productive.
Your post also raised the question of how this process will end, since no one expects it to succeed. Let me point to a straw in the wind — a different unanswered question in a different press conference.
At Tuesday’s White House press conference, Robert Gibbs was asked about last week’s Haaretz report that “senior Israeli officials” said President Obama had informed several European leaders that he will convene an international summit to create a Palestinian state if talks remain stalemated after four or five months:
QUESTION: … It was reported on Friday that President Obama had spoken to European leaders and told them that if talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalemated in September or October, he’ll convene an international summit on achieving Mideast peace. Can you confirm if — whether the President is going down that road?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NSC. I have not heard that, but I will check with them and see if they have anything on it.
It strains credulity that, four days after the Haaretz report, Gibbs had heard nothing about it and had no answer prepared. It is also obvious that he has access to a source within the White House who could definitively confirm or deny it. The professed lack of knowledge, together with the promise to check with a source not likely to “have anything” on it, seemed like an answer specifically designed to leave the possibility hanging.
Consider the Haaretz report confirmed, and watch the Palestinians adopt a negotiating position intended to create the necessary “stalemate.”