Conspicuous failure

From rich sounding promises, Obama’s Israel-Palestine policy appears reduced to simply managing, not resolving, the conflict, writes Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank

The conspicuous failure of the latest visit to the region by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell raises questions as to the Obama administration’s ability — or even willingness — to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. Prior to his arrival, Mitchell was widely thought to be carrying “serious ideas” that would help resume stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, after meetings with both Palestinian and Israeli leaders, it became clear that the American envoy was near completely empty handed, and that he was succumbing to Israeli intransigence. Seeking to obscure his surrender to Israeli whims, Mitchell tried to cajole the increasingly vulnerable Palestinian leadership to resume the moribund peace process without receiving any guarantees that renewed talks would go anywhere.

Mitchell pressed the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel to start “low level talks” which he suggested might help leaders tackle the hard issues. However, in making such suggestions, Mitchell seemed to have forgotten that his proposal had been tried numerous times before but to no avail, mainly due to Israel’s refusal to give up the spoils of the 1967 war.

Mitchell also offered the PA leadership what one Palestinian official termed “secondary inducements” to return to the negotiating table with Israel, including enhancing Palestinian mobility in the West Bank and allowing PA police to operate in additional localities. But Mitchell refused to commit himself to pressure Israel to freeze settlement expansion and reportedly tried to circumvent the issue, saying that the sides would discuss the issue in bilateral negotiations.

Mitchell also suggested that the sides initiate “indirect talks”. The Israelis described the proposal as “interesting” while the PA called it “totally pointless”.

As Mitchell arrived in Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a plethora of provocative and uncompromising — even pugnacious — statements, suggesting that Israel will never agree to the establishment of a truly viable Palestinian state. Marking a Jewish holiday at the settlement of Gush Etzion north of Hebron, Netanyahu declared that, “we are here to stay” and “this [settlement] is Jerusalem’s southern gate while Maali Adumim is Jerusalem’s eastern gate.”

Earlier, he stated that, “in the context of any peace arrangement, Israel would completely surround any Palestinian entity from all sides,” adding that Israel would have to maintain a “presence” in “Judea and Samaria” (the biblical names of the West Bank).

Maintaining a broad smile throughout his visit, Mitchell didn’t try to challenge Netanyahu and instead kept repeating old platitudes about the continued commitment of the Obama administration to Palestinian-Israeli peace. However, it was obvious that at least some of Mitchell’s Arab interlocutors were exasperated, having seen the Obama administration waste precious time while Israel steals more Arab land.

One Palestinian official in Ramallah remarked: “Every new visit by Mitchell makes the prospect of resolving the conflict more elusive.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained bitterly that all that Mitchell wanted was to force the PA to absorb Israeli provocations.

The growing defiance displayed by Netanyahu finds encouragement in what is widely seen here as Netanyahu’s “victory” over Obama in the apparent tug-of-war between them over a settlement expansion freeze. Obama had been demanding that Israel freeze all settlement expansion in the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem. However, Netanyahu refused to budge. Eventually, it was Obama who really budged, allowing Netanyahu to emerge victorious.

To be sure, Netanyahu made a half-hearted decision to freeze some settlement building for 10 months. However, that freeze was disingenuous to a large extent, given continued building in numerous locations, as revealed by Israeli peace groups such as the Peace Now movement. On Tuesday, 26 January, the veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar argued that, “only an idiot would say Israel has frozen settlements.”

Recently, Netanyahu has also been encouraged by Obama’s lost Democratic majority in Congress, which the Israeli premier hopes will make it impossible for the US administration to take decisions Israel doesn’t like. Moreover, Obama’s own admission that he had underestimated the hardship of making peace in the Middle East seems to militate in Netanyahu’s favour, as he is interpreting this as a vindication of his policy of “playing it tough”, not only with the Palestinians but also with the Americans.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, Obama admitted that his attempts to break the deadlock in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations by pressuring the Israeli government to end the construction of Jewish colonies have failed. The US president said he raised expectations of a breakthrough too high because he underestimated the obstacles involved.

“This is just really hard. This is as intractable a problem as you get. If we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.”

Upset by the belated realisation that Mitchell’s main goal is to “keep the process going”, the Palestinian leadership of PA President Mahmoud Abbas is finding itself at a loss as to what to do in light of Obama’s failure. Reacting to Netanyahu’s remarks about Israel’s intention to annex large chunks of the West Bank, Palestinian officials countered: “This is an unacceptable act that destroys all the efforts being exerted by Senator Mitchell in order to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.”

Nabil Abu Rudeina, an aide to Abbas, added that the PA was still insistent that the resumption of the peace process would have to be preceded by a comprehensive settlement freeze. However, in order to avoid being accused of stonewalling and impeding peace, the PA is demanding that the US steps in and declare the endgame of the process, in which case the suspension of settlement expansion would no longer be a Palestinian pre-condition.

Regardless, only political novices think that a US declaration of the “endgame” would overcome the huge conceptual gap between the two sides, and Israel’s dominant influence over US politics and policies. Hence, most observers believe the Obama administration will merely continue to “manage” the conflict, not resolve it. The Obama administration might also seek a more “malleable” Palestinian leadership — one not answerable to the Palestinian masses, or even Fatah.

Such a scenario would undoubtedly generate a lot of frustration, anger and tension in occupied Palestine and throughout much of the Middle East, and might trigger a new wave of violence against US interests here and beyond. Moreover, the collapse of the peace process, even if kept alive by artificial means, would seriously undermine the credibility and survival of pro-US regimes in the region while bolstering the appeal of resistance groups such as Hamas and Hizbullah.


  1. Ray Vegter said,

    January 30, 2010 at 18:53

    Did the PA really expect anything more out of Mitchell? Come on PA your not going to get any help out of this administration. You’ve got a US President who promised to act on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and then turns around and puts a former Israeli soldier in as his Chief of Staff. Who do you think runs the White House now when it comes to dealing with Israel? His name is Rahm Emanuel and his father was a known member of a Zionist terror group, Irgun, need I say more?
    As always another great read on this site. Thank you

  2. Tar de Moutonnoir said,

    January 30, 2010 at 22:51

    For Palestine, there is no path but that of resistance.

  3. Bonnie said,

    January 30, 2010 at 23:12

    No. No. NO. You don’t understand!

    He did what he was put there to do. Completing the Agenda, started a long time ago. Bush brought it farther along, but Obama finished it.

    You see it’s all coded for the Elite/ptb.
    POTUS has ALWAYS directed their messages and speeches to his Bosses/Superiors. Listen to any speech and redbetwen the lines. ALWAYS.
    This is the same for the speech he gave in COP15.

    For Obama it’s Mission Acomplished!

  4. David G said,

    January 31, 2010 at 01:47

    This article merely restates what many people have known for years. Israel has no intention of allowing a sovereign Palestinian State while America has assisted the Israelis to procrastinate for decades and tyrannize the Palestinians.

    Arafat knew that the only choice the Palestinians had was to fight for their freedom. Since his death, the Palestinians have become an irrelevance.

    If the Palestinians could put their house in order and fight their oppressors, well, that’s highly unlikely!

  5. January 31, 2010 at 06:14

    It’s becoming clear that these people are simply treading water biding their time while they wait for an excuse for a final confrontation against Iran – which, the way things are rapidly developing at the moment, might not be that far away!

  6. January 31, 2010 at 15:00

    I like the new rating system. Let the plebs boo their asses off.

    First of all George Mitchell is one of the least credible old shoes ever to become a multi-multimillionaire as a public servant from Maine. LOL! His appointment to this task is more about the ongoing placating of the two girl Senators from Maine -Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of whom are extravagantly Boston educated, brain-dead, AND would-be and wanna-be Washington social debutantes in the horny-city. The coming-out budget allotted the hair dressers and the gown-makers of these two women would build a new Brazilia every three months. They vote according to the lump of cash they can stuff into their lace panties, and call it doing Maine’s business in the red-light district of our corrupt nation.

    Second, the Palestinians have to get real about their expectations from the CIA WWIII shill, Obama, who is far more concerned about how to start the new global conflagration -than this South-Side Chicago hood ever could be about as few Palestinian kids with bullet holes in their chests, heads, limbs, homes, schools or whatever. The humanitarian appeal of depicting the atrocities going on -plays to the tune of “Pop Does the Weasel” in the Oval Office, and if anything, -cheers- when a new more gory picture emerges concerning the depravity of the ultra-orthodox range thieves too commonly referred to as “settlers”. Yea sure, “settlers” with guns, and tanks, bulldozers and missiles to help them eradicate the vermin Palestinian population in their way.

    The cold, hard reality for the Palestinians is, -they either need to get better at fighting and killing Israelis real fast, start digging their own graves, or start running as fast as they can, -because there’s a cash bounty being offered for the severed head of every Palestinian regardless age or gender. It’s a bounty offered in Tel aviv, and paid for with money that is coughed up by the American government every year. And Obama signs the checks (for a cut on the deal).

    It’s called “war”, folks. It’s as human as menstruation and boners. A big one is coming -no- not a boner, a big WAR. When it gets here, (and it will because it is already here), WWIII is going to so obliterate by its immense horror -any current humanitarian concern for the Palestinians, -that the Israelis are going to exterminate the Palestinians without so much as one voice being raised against the Israeli-preferred final solution.

    That’s the end game. You should prepare yourself for it. I mean, everyone should prepare themselves for it, not just the Palestinians. Because, it’s not a time to be fooling yourself with any misguided feel-good mindset concerning the superiority of your humanitarian soul.

    Buy a gun. Get ready to use it, -either to defend yourself, -or to deprive those who are coming after you the chance to kill you and YOUR loved ones in some more gruesome way.

    Because Obama is going to succeed. WWIII is a given under Obama.

    And don’t wave your thumbs at me. I’m entirely immune to the notion your vote means anything. I’m not running for office.

  7. Marry said,

    February 1, 2010 at 09:22


  8. Marry said,

    February 1, 2010 at 09:22

    thank you for your information

  9. Truthteller said,

    February 1, 2010 at 13:26

    The only way Obama can stop the Israelis’ intransigence is to cut off the billlions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that is siphoned off as ”aid” to this apartheid entity. (Aid for an entity that calls itself a first world country?)

    But Obama, like Bush and other leaders before them, just doesn’t have the cojones to do it. So, poor ol’ Mitch will be sent hopping about in the region on a mission hopeless from the start, instead of staying home on the chicken farm or whatever and counting the diminishing number of sunsets in his life. Netanyahoo and crew will continue to snigger in amusement as the poor old dupe (together with that other peace pretender who recognises he is a dupe but does it anyway for the money, Phony Bliar) carries on this seemingly endless charade.

    As for Obama he will be turfed out at the end of his presidency and find himself a job as a motivational speaker (selling froth and dreams to the gullible), or an anchor man on some talking head tv show – the only jobs he is really qualified to do. And the world will have this cancerous sore in the middle east still waiting for a western leader with the strength of character and political skills to cure it.

  10. February 1, 2010 at 18:51

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by theopolitico, Ambrosius Macrobius. Ambrosius Macrobius said: Wake Up Slumber OBAMA’S CONSPICUOUS FAILURE: The conspicuous failure of the latest visit to the region by US envoy… http://bit.ly/9twGE5 […]

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