Are They Being Smart Yet?

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.'”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.