Two Years from Never

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.