In his article, “Hillary’s Dangerous Mideast Leap” (which Jen discusses here), Leslie Gelb caustically suggests that Hillary Clinton (“Washington’s current flavor of the month”) and her boss (“the administration’s other Middle East expert”) must know something we don’t:
You wouldn’t think the two American leaders would risk the prestige and power of the United States of America on yet another effort to reconcile these two blood enemies without good grounds for doing so, would you?
Gelb hopes that the Obama administration “did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks … just to get them talking to each other,” because once such talks fail, the explosion will likely be greater than if there had been no negotiations at all — an observation Jeffrey Goldberg calls “very smart.”
The peace process is too big to fail after only one month — especially one month before a U.S. election, shaping up as a referendum on Obama — so the administration will likely find a way to get Abbas to back down from his insistence on preconditions, which Obama himself already abandoned. But why would anyone think a process featuring a Palestinian “president” whose term of office ended 20 months ago, who cannot set foot in half his putative state, who cannot schedule local elections even in the half he nominally controls, who has failed to condition his public for compromise, and whose reluctance to negotiate is palpable, might succeed?
Near the end of his 800-page book on The Missing Peace, in a chapter entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past,” Dennis Ross wrote that:
Whenever my exasperation with Arafat was reaching its limits, [Mahmoud Abbas], Abu Ala, or [others] … would remind me that only Arafat had the moral authority among Palestinians to compromise on Jerusalem, refugees, and borders. … “Remember, he is the only one who can concede on fundamental issues.” Often [Abbas] … or other Palestinian negotiators would tell me, “You prefer dealing with us because you see us as more moderate, but we cannot deliver, only he can.”
Ross wrote that the U.S. had created a process that became “self-sustaining and essentially an end in itself” — which seems a good description of the process in which Obama is currently engaged. The failed peace processes of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush should have cautioned against simply starting a new one, but Obama rushed right back in, from the first week of his presidency, and now is deeply invested in a process he cannot allow to end, even if it is obvious that it cannot succeed. What was he thinking?