What Happens When the Talks Fail?

It is a measure of how badly the Obami’s approach to the Middle East has failed and how little the Israelis trust Obama when, as Josh Rogin reports, the Israelis make it crystal clear how little they regard the president’s positions:

“We are coming to the table with no preconditions on any issue,” embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled said on a conference call Tuesday. “We are certain that the issue of settlements, of this moratorium, will be on the table and discussed between the two leaders … with the hope that a solution, an exit, a formula can be found that will satisfy both sides, but only after it is brought to the table between them.”

So much for the settlement-freeze gambit. And there’s more:

“The latest moratorium that this government took about 10 months ago was a one-time gesture with the aim of jumpstarting the process,” Peled said.

Well, that’s some helpful candor. The Bush administration to my knowledge avoided bridging proposals. These merely encourage intransigence and gamesmanship. “Well, if the U.S. is going to split the difference, let’s ask for the moon and the stars.” It is antithetical to the notion that the parties must control their own destiny and that Israel, in particular, must be allowed to define for itself its own security needs. And one might also interpret the Israelis’ forcefulness as a preemptive strike against an imposed peace deal, which many are concerned is not entirely off the table.

And George Mitchell also appears to have his tail between his legs:

Although Mitchell has often compared Middle East negotiations to the struggle for peace in Northern Ireland, he said Tuesday that the comparison is not strictly accurate, even though military groups in Northern Ireland eventually did join talks.

“So, first, let me say they’re very different. It’s not useful to try to make direct comparisons because the participants, the circumstances, the situation, the timing are all very different,” he said.

The negotiations hang by a thread, which could easily break at any moment. (“If there’s one word to describe the feelings about the talks throughout Washington, that word is skepticism. Experts across the political spectrum see the idea of a breakthrough as a long shot at best.”) It would seem prudent then to have a backup plan in mind should talks fail. What if a third intifada breaks out? I certainly hope someone is thinking about that. Of all the possible outcomes, that, sadly, seems the most likely.