What next in the Middle East?
Since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech last week on the demise of the "peace process," pro-Israel activists and lawmakers have been trying to figure out what the administration is up to, and what it can do next.
A leader of an American Jewish organization that enjoys a good relationship with the administration expressed surprise and dismay to me this week that the Obama team has not gotten more serious about pursuing the so-called Fayyed plan, which focuses on building up the West Bank economy and helping to create civil Palestinian institutions. He wondered why the administration wasn't willing to pony up not only big dollars, but experts to work on that endeavor.
Likewise, an experienced Middle East negotiator who is in contact with the parties tells me that, with regard to the Fayyed plan, administration officials "will say they support this 100 percent. Hillary did, in her Friday speech. Thing is, they do not mean it. [George] Mitchell is uninterested in this." The negotiator urges the administration to refocus its efforts. "The administration should be doing much more," he says. "Think what they could have gotten done had the energy they put into the [settlements] freeze been instead put into improving the Palestinian quality of life."
The lack of interest here seems like a lost opportunity. Understandably, administration officials would want to keep up the facade that talks, albeit indirect, are ongoing. This avoids a loss of face for the administration and might help to stave off efforts for a unilateral declaration and recognition of a Palestinian state. But still, one wonders why a fruitful and low-risk approach, one that actually had great success during the Bush administration, has essentially been back-burnered. It is another sign, perhaps, that those in charge of the Obama Middle East team are badly in over their heads.
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