Hillary Clinton's Middle East speech sounds retreat
On Friday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy forum. It was a curious speech, ambiguous and somewhat defensive.
Direct talks, which actually had not been direct since Sept. 26, broke off earlier in the week. Clinton's job was to convince the audience, those in the room and in the Middle East, that the administration's failure to sustain talks was not a permanent defeat.
She acknowledged, without pleading guilty to gross incompetence or hubris, that President Obama's approach had reached a dead end:
For two years, you have heard me and others emphasize again and again that negotiations between the parties is the only path that will succeed in securing their respective aspirations; for the Israelis, security and recognition; for the Palestinians, an independent, viable sovereign state of their own. This remains true today. There is no alternative other than reaching mutual agreement. The stakes are too high, the pain too deep, and the issues too complex for any other approach.
Now, it is no secret that the parties have a long way to go and that they have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires. And like many of you, I regret that we have not gotten farther faster in our recent efforts. That is why yesterday and today I met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and underscored our seriousness about moving forward with refocused goals and expectations.
Translation: harping on settlements for two years got us nowhere, and now the parties won't get in the same room together.
So what does she propose? Well, the U.S. wants to get to "the core issues of the conflict on borders and security; settlements, water and refugees; and on Jerusalem itself." How is Clinton going to do this without the parties actually sitting down together? The U.S. will pursue a "framework" agreement and presumably shuttle back-and-forth between the two sides. ("And in the days ahead, our discussions with both sides will be substantive two-way conversations with an eye toward making real progress in the next few months on the key questions of an eventual framework agreement.")
There are a couple of obvious problems with this. As to a framework agreement, Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush who helped to craft an approach in which the parties actually met together, wrote earlier in September in the Post:
The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.
All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their "fundamental compromises" on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide. Those compromises will be balanced by no visible reward, and even a "fundamental compromise" such as "Jerusalem must be shared" or "Israel can protect its security in the West Bank" gets you nowhere without endless detail explaining what you mean. This isn't Sinai, where there was only one easily grasped and implemented decision: Would Israel would give back every square inch?
Moreover, it is nearly inconceivable that the Israelis at this point would invest much trust in either Clinton (whose tentative deal with Israel on the 90-day freeze was undercut by the White House) or in George Mitchell (who over the last few weeks was sidelined for fear of further aggravating the parties). And when Clinton utters this sort of propaganda directly from the Palestinian playbook, it certainly doesn't help matters:
We also look at our friends the Palestinians, and we remember the painful history of a people who have never had a state of their own, and we are renewed in our determination to help them finally realize their legitimate aspirations. The lack of peace and the occupation that began in 1967 continue to deprive the Palestinian people of dignity and self-determination. This is unacceptable, and, ultimately, it too is unsustainable.
Wrong, Madam Secretary. It didn't begin in 1967. In 1948 the Palestinians had their own state; they chose war. And they were offered a state again at Camp David (surely she must remember since her husband was there) and by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Moreover, missing from Clinton's list of core issues were recognition of the Jewish state and renunciation of terrorism by the Palestinians. She certainly doesn't inspire confidence in Israel or among friends of the Jewish state.
What do we make of all this? A former Middle East negotiator offered two potential interpretations. If we "take her at her word(s)," he told me, then we should expect the administration to employ the "same goal, same energy, same determination, same timetable, [but] different tactics." Or maybe this is just "a sort of cover for her backing away, toning it down, leaving it to Mitchell."
The silver lining is that expectations are non-existent for any progress, and the public hectoring of Israel by the Obama team is likely to abate. Moreover, the hopes for Israel-bashers like the J Street crowd for an "imposed" peace deal implemented by the U.S. against Israel's will seems, at least for now, not in the cards. We should, I suppose, be grateful for small favors.
Posted by: Thoughtful-Ted | December 13, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ConscientiousObjector1 | December 13, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Lumiere1 | December 13, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: K2K2 | December 13, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: K2K2 | December 13, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mgilmour8 | December 13, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 54465446 | December 13, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cavalier4 | December 13, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mgilmour8 | December 13, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: rcaruth | December 13, 2010 2:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: mgilmour8 | December 13, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: citysoilverizonnet | December 13, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Stacyx | December 13, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Yesh_Prabhu | December 13, 2010 11:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Yorke1845 | December 14, 2010 4:44 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: DwightCollins | December 14, 2010 6:13 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.