Aaron David Miller on Secretary Clinton’s Roll in Mideast Peace
Food for thought. I don’t always agree with Miller (a former Mideast peace negotiator during previous administrations) and I’m not sure I completely agree with him here, but I was wondering what others thought about his piece over at Foreign Policy (this is only a short excerpt- definitely go read the whole article):
…This four-part structure — or more accurately absence of structure — hasn’t served the United States well. It’s not that these centers of influence are in ferocious competition; everybody — or almost everyone — seems to get along. It’s just that there appears to have been no adult supervision to differentiate what might work from what absolutely wouldn’t. Had there been, the Obama administration may not have solved the Arab-Israeli conflict these past 20 months, but it wouldn’t have run off the highway so badly.
And the mark of that dysfunction is the stunning fact that 20 months in there’s still no real sense of who or what was responsible for several false starts — the search for a settlement freeze, the much-touted hyperlaunch and rapid breakdown of the talks last September, the effort to bribe the Israelis into accepting a freeze, and the more generic problem of why the U.S.-Israeli relationship has resembled (with a lot of help from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) a roller-coaster ride at Wally World.
All this of course raises the truly scary possibility that the administration’s failures weren’t a result of confusion or of too many cooks in the kitchen, but came about because everyone involved actually agreed with the approach taken.
Let’s be clear again: Fixing the bureaucracies won’t overcome the huge challenges standing in the way of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But if it’s to be fixed (and even if it can’t), there has to be a change. Somebody — the secretary of state — has to take charge. And there’s no doubt she is capable of doing it.
If, as it appears, the administration is going for the endgame on the big issues — proposals to bridge the gaps between the parties or even a U.S. plan — then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needs to identify and fight for a strategy that reflects the needs of both Israelis and Palestinians, and get the president not just to allow her to take the lead, but to watch her back at home and abroad.
I think Hillary Clinton is in command of the Mideast portfolio and I don’t think that having a Special Envoy dilutes her authority but I do think that there seems to be a lot of hands in the pot. It’s no secret that Bibi would prefer to work with Dennis Ross of the NSC over George Mitchell or the State Department but my response to that would be to remind Bibi how things work and I think the administration should avoid giving in to every one of Bibi’s whims.
One thing that concerns me is that we are seeing less and less of Senator Mitchell and seeing and hearing more and more about Dennis Ross’ role in the peace negotiations (or lack thereof) and I don’t like that. Many see Mitchell as a more honest brokers than Ross and the AIPAC types were very worried when Mitchell was named Special Envoy. He has a proven record of being an objective mediator of such conflicts and some don’t want the US to be anything resembling objective. Ross doesn’t like putting any pressure on Israel and he apparently (according to media reports) was behind the overly-generous “incentives” package offered to, and then rejected by, Bibi Netanyahu.
In his book, Aaron David Miller actually refers to he and Dennis Ross during the Bill Clinton years of Mideast peace negotiations as seeing themselves more as “Israel’s Lawyers”- something which he later came to recognize was/is a problem. Secretary Clinton, for her part, has shown that she can play good cop/bad cap and be very objective when necessary and it often is necessary, with both parties. It does seem like we keep repeating the same mistakes of the past (see excellent article here about this), despite the fact that Clinton and Mitchell are involved, and I can’t help but wonder if our own domestic politics here at home is to blame. The Congress, including Democrats, have not been supportive of this administration’s efforts and I think that has been a huge, albeit under-reported, problem.