Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mitchell: Talks Going Better Than Expected!

What you're going to see over the next several months is that at any given moment, either President Abbas or Prime Minister Netanyahu may end up saying certain things for domestic consumption, for their constituencies and so forth, that may not be as reflective of that spirit of compromise we would like to see. Well, that's the nature of these talks
President Barack Obama

When he said that, Obama left out what his own team would be saying:
U.S. special envoy George Mitchell said Wednesday that the peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders were being conducted more seriously and faster than the ones he brokered in Northern Ireland in the 1990s.

Mitchell particularly noted progress regarding the construction freeze in the West Bank settlements. Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, were quick to qualify Mitchell's enthusiasm, saying Netanyahu stressed at the meeting Wednesday that the moratorium that is set to expire on September 26 would not be extended.
So, are things going as swimmingly as Mitchell says--and Netanyahu just doesn't want to upset Israelis about extending the settlement freeze until he has an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the announcement?

Or is Mitchell just trying to put more pressure on Israel to make one more unilateral concession to Abbas?

Part of the problem is that the US doesn't trust Abbas and Netanyahu to get the job done:
Mitchell said the United States was encouraging the parties to come to a joint solution on the settlements, and was bringing up its own suggestions.
In other words, Abbas got what he wanted--these are not direct face-to-face talks; instead the US is right there in the room doing whatever it can to see to it that a second Palestinian state is created--this for El Presidente Abbas, whose term in office ended nearly 2 years ago.

Mort Zimmerman of US News & World Report writes that the US is conducting the talks in a way contrary to how it has done in the past--and brings with it some problems:
In all previous meetings, the Americans entered the talks in a serious way only at the endgame. The argument for the trilateral arrangement is that in any impasse the Americans will be on hand to offer a bridging proposal. The trouble is that this approach will make it harder for the Israelis and the Palestinians to engage.

The risk is that they will take positions designed to elicit American approval. Or they'll be tempted to make harder demands of the other side in the knowledge that the Americans will be obliged to try to get movement on them.

An easy example of how difficult this is going to be is Israel's 10-month-old moratorium on settlement construction that ends on September 26. Originally the moratorium was an Israeli gesture of good faith, put forth in the hope of a reciprocal response from the Palestinians. It was not forthcoming. In the culture of the Middle East, an unrequited gesture is not regarded as magnanimous but as a sign of weakness, and as such inviting further pressure. That, in part, is why the Israelis are unwilling to extend this moratorium. In fact, the Palestinians threatened to end the talks if construction of even a single house resumed. American officials must urge the Palestinian leadership to stop their threats and just recognize that the talks will have to begin with both sides having to make concessions. This is a way the parties will begin to develop a sense from each other as to where flexibility lies.
Of course, you can argue that doing it the old way was not successful--so why not do it this way. The question is whether these are really negotiations requiring give and take or whether the US is in the room from the beginning to shove this through no matter what.

If the latter, once successful--the US can always walk away.
The same cannot be said about those who will have to live with Obama's handiwork.

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