There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the Obama administration’s push for indirect “proximity” talks between Israel and the Palestinians, with special envoy George Mitchell serving as facilitator, referee and cheerleader, and about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reluctant agreement to participate.
You hear much less about how the Palestinians and the Arab states haven’t been much help to the administration’s faltering efforts.
Palestinian leaders now grudgingly say they’ll participate, but if past experience is a guide, they’ll find a dozen or two reasons to condition their participation on some Israeli concession, leading to more delay and more frustration for U.S. peacemakers.
What’s also clear: any real peace process requires clear, unequivocal and consistent buy-in from Arab and Islamic countries that, more often than not, have served as instigators of more conflict, not supporters of peacemaking efforts.
This week there were reports in the Israeli and Syrian press that the Arab League may reject the U.S. call for resumed talks; without Arab League support, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is unlikely to follow through with the U.S. proposal.
The Obama administration may have its own reasons for being frustrated with an Israeli leader who has to answer to a divided public and right-of-center coalition in responding to U.S. demands. But it doesn’t make sense to keep pressing Israel while taking a relatively passive stance toward other regional leaders who have traditionally fueled Israeli-Palestinian conflict to serve their domestic political needs — often steeped in repression.
Saudi Arabia claims a special relationship with the United States; Egypt is the second biggest recipient of U.S. aid. Where is the active leadership of these countries in pressing the Palestinians to get back to serious negotiations, without poison-pill preconditions?
In a Foreign Policy article tinged with personal disillusionment, retired State Department peace processor Aaron David Miller argued that pressing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace is no longer a top U.S. policy interest — and that even if it were, conditions in the region make it the riskiest of diplomatic endeavors. (See Between the Lines, page 7.)
One reason centers on the sorry showing of Arab and Muslim governments that say they’re allies but do not support, and frequently undermine, U.S. efforts.
Until the administration devotes as much energy to enlisting their active and unwavering backing as it does to pressuring Israel, it’s hard to imagine how this latest U.S. initiative will be any more successful than the long list of past failures.
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