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Aaron David Miller on Secretary Clinton’s Roll in Mideast Peace

January 6, 2011

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.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. Tovah permalink
    January 6, 2011 8:58 am

    Thanks for posting this! That article you linked to in the last paragraph does a great job of describing what happened during previous negotiations. I was sort of taught that all previous breakdowns in peace negotiations were a result of a failure of the Palestinians to take advantage of the generous Israeli offers- seriously, that’s what I always thought, particularly at Oslo, but this puts it in a different light. There was fault on all sides, including the US.

    • January 6, 2011 9:07 am

      Hey Tovah, for more on the “generous offer” to the Palestinians, see here:

      And a quite biased, but interesting point of view about the geographics of the “generous” offer:

      Looking back, it’s easy to see how it still might have been beneficial for the Palestinians to take the offer b/c since that time things have only worsened but there was more going on than was being reported in the US press.

      The real problem is that settlements have made it impossible to have a viable Palestinian state with contiguous borders. So when you hear the Israel Lobby say “settlements are not and have never been the issue” or that demanding they cease is an unjust “precondition” to negotiations (it is not, it is a legal requirement under international law that they stop), the fact is that is nonsense- all that is left is pockets of Palestinian territories, more like bantustans than a viable state.

      • Thain permalink
        January 6, 2011 10:40 am

        Great links. I don’t know as much about Oslo and the Taba Summit as I should.

        We do hear over and over again how the Palestinians missed a historic opportunity but as always there is more to the story. But as you said, looking back, it actually seems like a good deal compared to what they have now- nothing!

  2. GeorgeS permalink
    January 6, 2011 9:34 am

    Thanks for posting this.

    Also, as reported a week or two ago in Al Jazeera, Julian Assange said that the Wiki cables that dealt with Israel were refused publication by the US media (and many other Western media) and there is damning stuff trickling out but the US media continues to ignore it. Can we put to rest the absurd notion that the US media isn’t ridiculously biased and serving as Israel’s PR arm? Please?

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      January 6, 2011 9:58 am

      If he’s so eager to get the truth out there, I don’t get why Assange doesn’t offer those particular Wiki cables to Al Jazeera?

      • January 6, 2011 10:32 am

        That was my exact response. Why didn’t Assange not offer any cables to non-Western media rather than just withholding them altogether (if one believes they should be released at all) when others refused to publish them? I’m not even going to get into Assange’s head because I have a feeling its not a very good place to be. Also, he made the comment during an interview to Al Jazeera. Of course, anybody can go to WikiLeaks and do a subject search so I am not really sure what’s going on. I do know that the US media has ignored unflattering Israel cables like the plague.

        I am rather conflicted about this whole WikiLeaks thing and I’ll admit I wish it hadn’t happened on Hillary’s watch although I DO NOT think that it reflects poorly on her at all- this was likely a DEFENSE DEPARTMENT official that stole this info. so I am not sure why State has gotten all the heat.

        Interestingly, I have seen more Israel cables over the last week- all in non-US media- usually in Scandanavian or Israeli media, so I think they are getting out there. Yesterday was the story about the economic strangulation of Gaza, today about the bribes, etc.

      • Thain permalink
        January 6, 2011 10:41 am

        I think Assange has an agenda and is a bit of a nutter.

  3. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    January 6, 2011 10:37 am

    Miller seems to be blaming Obama first and foremost for the lack of “adult supervision.” His criticism of Hillary is more muted – he implies her major problem has been the lack of clear directives from (and empowerment by) the President and I agree with that. There was the very promising beginning in his Cairo speech, when he compared the plight of Palestinians to blacks in the US and said in no uncertain terms that the expansion of new settlements in the West Bank had to stop. He seemed to be signalling a real change in US relations with the Arab people. But after that, Obama disappeared until last spring — after Bibi thumbed his nose at Biden — when he made a second speech implying that American soldiers’ lives would continue to be endangered until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been resolved. Once again, he seemed to be signalling he was prepared to take a stronger stand in shaping MidEast policy, and it looked like he was giving Hillary the green light to push for direct negotiations. What happened? Obama again disappeared to concentrate on the midterm elections. What must this all have looked like from Bibi’s perspective? Waffling, indecision, lack of will, absence of consistent leadership. The problem is that the public perception is apt to be that he was focusing on domestic problems and left Hillary to deal with foreign policy, ergo, any failures on that front should be laid at her doorstep.

    • January 6, 2011 10:48 am

      Yes, Miller clearly lays the blame on Obama, as he should. Cairo was a very hopeful moment and his backsliding since that time was clearly taken as a sign of weakness by not only Bibi but the Arab world. However, I personally believe (as do many others) that the admin. was backed into a corner by some of Israel’s unquestioning supporters here in the US. Any attempt to be an objective mediator or to put pressure on Israel ends up being greeted with mass hysteria by Congress and the Israel Lobby- Bibi knows this and he played Congress and the Lobby against the admin. When was the last time you heard Democrats in Congress call on Israel to cease settlements and stop playing games? You didn’t hear it and you won’t. Sure, a few commentators like Friedman and Cohen have given the admin. some support, but so long as Bibi has more support in Congress when it comes to Mideast peace than the POTUS does, it’s gonna be hard.

      Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador, actually went around to prominent Washington DC and NY synogogues and lectured the Jewish community on how their responsibility was to accept anything Israel does with respect to negotiations and Iran, period. Creating such a climate is unhelpful.

      • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
        January 6, 2011 10:58 am

        Agreed, but someone with the tenacity of, say, LBJ (remember Hillary’s in retrospect wise observation that it took LBJ to make King’s dreams a reality?) — a different sort of President, say Hillary, would not have caved to AIPAC pressure. That’s my fond wish and I’m sticking to it!

      • January 6, 2011 11:42 am

        I agree Obama’s Cairo speech was viewed hopefully by many at the time. Since then, it has come to represent more lofty rhetoric not backed up with substance. Since that speech, we have tripled forces in Afghanistan, kept Guantanamo / indefinite detainment with no charges / military tribunals going, not stood up definitively to Israeli government and allowed continued blockade of Gaza which violates international law, and (I think very importantly) we continue to strongly support repressive regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

  4. Steve permalink
    January 6, 2011 11:48 am

    @Carolyn- I certainly share you fond wish. However, both Candidate Obama and Candidate Clinton’s speeches at AIPAC during the primaries were classic caving to AIPAC. Also, her record in NY- saying Jerusalem should never be divided, rubber stamping everything Israel did no matter how questionable, makes me wonder. Obama basically said the same as a candidate if I remember correctly (in his AIPAC speech).

    Of course one could argue that any NY politician has to do/say that- as a New Yorker myself I understand the pressure they are under. Unfortunately, not many Presidents stand up to the lobby and the lobby is not just AIPAC unfortunately- it seems to include many Jewish organizations, a large portion of the Jewish community and right-wing Christian Zionists. I’ve noticed that lately Bill Clinton has been making some blunt statements about settlers and the peace process, which is hopeful b/c it could also reflect Hillary’s thinking, but who knows.

    At the end of the day the irony is that the Israel Can Do No Wrong crowd is actually ensuring that Israel’s security will always be tenuous and that she will never be at peace with her neighbors. They seem to care more about their personal and organizational political power than what is in fact in the best interest of the state of Israel. At least in my opinion.

  5. January 6, 2011 12:51 pm

    OT: this is pretty incredible. Obama’s likely chief of staff opposed Wall Street reform, the formation of a consumer financial protection agency and opposed health care reform:

    I guess we know where Obama stands heading into 2012 don’t we?

    • Lulu permalink
      January 6, 2011 1:22 pm

      Obama really is a tool. He’s going to have a hard time getting his base out to vote in 2012.

  6. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    January 6, 2011 1:33 pm

    And, except as Commerce Sec’y little in the way of public sector credentials. Ug, such pandering to the business community and Wall Street. Every time I think Obama has bottomed out, he comes up with some even more appalling decision. Could he be a bigger disapointment? Obama is lining up his ducks for 2012, and I’m sure will be trying to convince loyalists he’ll really, truly come through on his promises in his second term. NOT. It’ll be almost funny to hear what sort of campaign rhetoric he comes up with this time.

  7. January 6, 2011 1:34 pm

    Please, if you are interested in this issue (Israel-Palestine), read this translation (from Hebrew) that appeared in the Israeli print media about how Abu Mazen has REPEATEDLY brought an entire peace proposal to Bibi and the Americans during negotiations, only to have Israel refuse to even look at it. This is interesting because haaretz had been reporting way back when that Sen. Mitchell was frustrated with the Israelis because they would show up at meetings with nothing- no plan, no offers, nothing, just demands. On the other hand, the Palestinians were reported to have sketched out an entire proposal on all issues- borders, refugees, israeli security, land swaps etc.:

    This is the sort of thing that is NEVER covered in the US media. It kind of makes me wonder what the hell Ethan Bronner is doing as Jerusalem Bureau Chief- why does he need to be on the ground in Israel if he’s just going to parrot Israeli talking points- he can do that from the NYT home office. I guess he reports from Jerusalem because he wants to be close to his son. 😉

    Seriously though, why do we in the U.S. NEVER get this type of information?

  8. Thain permalink
    January 6, 2011 2:36 pm

    Hey Stacy, that jerk Jennifer Rubin is dissing Hillary- go set her straight again like you did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before:

    Rubin exemplifies the Israel Lobby mindset and how they will do everything to try to sabotage any attempts at peace.

    • Steve permalink
      January 6, 2011 5:53 pm

      Jennifer Rubin is ridiculous. She fits right in with the neocons and faux liberals at the WaPo.

      She’s only been at the WaPo about two months and already she’s taken a lot of swipes at Hillary.

      • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
        January 6, 2011 9:38 pm

        Woohoo!! How many bloggers can boast that many? Simply the best!

  9. January 6, 2011 2:43 pm

    Jennifer Rubin drives me nuts. She really does. I usually go comment on most of her posts daily but haven’t had a chance to today but I will when I get home from work. She is ALWAYS dissing Hillary. She’s also always quoting her friend Eliot Abrahms which sort of drives me nuts.

    You are right Thain, she exemplifies the worst impulses of the right-wing hawks with respect to Israel.

    • Tovah permalink
      January 6, 2011 6:48 pm

      I just went to check out that Jennifer Rubin article and she proves your point stacy- the neocons HATE George Mitchell because they were terrified he would bring some objectivity to the process and they are terrified of that. They try to push the notion that anything that isn’t ridiculously biased towards Israel is somehow anti-Israel.

  10. HillaryFan permalink
    January 6, 2011 3:05 pm

    Hey Stacey, I just noticed your site stats- congrats on having over 1 million visitors! That’s really awesome!

    • January 6, 2011 4:10 pm

      Congratulations! You run a fabulous blog.

    • Steve permalink
      January 6, 2011 5:51 pm

      Wow, huge numbers! Awesome. But I have to say I’m not surprised- you work hard on this blog and I’m glad a lot of folks keep up with the Secretary.

  11. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    January 6, 2011 9:40 pm

    oops…my “Woo-hoo simply the best” was about YOUR blog stats, not Jennifer Rubin, lol!

    • January 7, 2011 6:40 am

      LOL. Jennifer Rubin is most certainly not the best!

  12. SirJohn permalink
    January 7, 2011 8:30 am

    Israel is NOT a democracy and it’s high time the US stop covering up this sad fact. The pro-Israel lobby and the US Jewish community in particular need to take a good long look in the mirror and understand that by enabling Israel’s worst, most undemocratic tendencies they have actually ensured that Israel will become increasingly isolated.

    Israel loves to blame others for all it’s problems but the sad reality is that Israel’s own actions have undermined its security and ensured that there will be constant conflict in the region. Israel can’t let go of it’s own victimization and cynically uses it to justify it’s violent, repressive, racist policies. Israel could withdraw to the legal 1967 borders and sign peace treaties with all her Arab neighbors- the Arab League has said this much- but Israel refuses preferring instead to gobble up and colonize land it has no legal right to. But we are supposed to believe Israel, a nuclear power with total diplomatic, military and economic support from the US is the victim? Please.

  13. Thain permalink
    January 7, 2011 9:12 am

    Very true.

    MOre people have been calling out Kershner and Bronner at the NYT for being far too willing to repeat verbatim IDF propaganda. Of course Bronner can get that directly from his son, whose in the IDF:

    If you want to know what is actually going on with the Occupation, don’t read the Times. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of liberals go for their news for some reason. No wonder so many people are so uninformed and think all Palestinians are terrorists and poor Israel is just a victim that is trying to not be “wiped off the map.” It’s a great propaganda line but has little basis in reality given Israel is a nuclear power and regional hegemon.

  14. Thain permalink
    January 7, 2011 9:18 am

    Wanted to ad- here’s a WaPo reporter who writes on Israel who was formerly of the Times and who also served in the IDF:

    Yup, no bias there. I bet he has a lot of good contacts in the IDF. Now imagine an Arab American reporter who served in an Arab country’s military (I don’t even think they can legally do that, but…) writing for the NYT or WaPo about the Middle East. That person would lose their job in 5 minutes for being “biased” and “anti-Israel.”

    What’s with all these Jewish Americans serving in another country’s army? Why not join the UNITED STATES MILITARY?

  15. January 7, 2011 10:08 am

    This is interesting:

    So much for being a secular state.

    • January 7, 2011 10:30 am

      Is it just my imagination or has Israel significantly escalated the movement away from a secular state since Obama became president? I have to wonder at its core what is driving this. I realize it wasn’t a secular democracy before 2008, but there’s been a consistent pattern recently that includes modifying laws to degrade the rights of non-Jews, driving out non-Jewish immigrants, and now even separating females from males on buses. Much of this seems to have happened since the Gaza blockade began.

      Ironic that israel is now doing a large number of the same things that their historical persecutors did toward them… Personally, I do not believe this pattern is sustainable for them just as it was not in the past for others.


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