Dysfunctional peace process, Chapter 2: conflict on the Middle East team

Friday I wrote about the dysfunctional peace process and signs the Obama administration is out of touch with the realities that are dragging the brand-new talks into the boneyard of failed Middle East initiatives.

Today the indefatigable Laura Rozen at Politico has the scoop on “signs of tensions inside Obama’s Middle East team.”

Laura describes the increasingly relevant question of who speaks for the Obama administration when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – special envoy George Mitchell or senior NSC strategist and peace process veteran Dennis Ross.

One take-away from her report is this: Ross is the “preferred go-to contact for the Israeli prime minister.”

Well, yeah: he’s the guy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows the best, he has a strong connection to the pro-Israel community (during a hiatus in his government service, Ross was director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank associated with AIPAC) and – despite longstanding complaints from the right, he has a personal connection to the Jewish state, which Mitchell does not.

Laura doesn’t get into the issue of what this all means.

Does Ross’s rise mean the administration will be able to provide the strong reassurances the Israeli leader needs to climb out on a new peace process limb? As she reports, it was Ross who was “tapped to draft a proposed U.S. package of security assurances to try to induce Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a 60-day extension of a partial West Bank settlement moratorium that expired last month.”

Or does it mean the administration has essentially caved in to Israeli and pro-Israel pressure and is now taking Israel’s side in the negotiations stalemate, thereby making it even less likely Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will compromise on the issue of continuing the settlement moratorium?

The game is still on so we don’t have a definitive answer.

Rozen also reports that while Mitchell and Ross are important, as is the apparent gap between them, President Obama remains the “conceptualizer” as the peace process staggers on.

Well, if he’s the conceptualizer, it sure likes the concept is fuzzy. Maybe the President has a longterm plan he hasn’t yet revealed (and won’t until after the November elections). But at this stage, it’s hard to argue that his thinking on the subject is new, creative – or working.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.