Mitchell’s Mideast job: Optimist-in-chief

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

The Politico’s prolific Laura Rozen has an interesting and revealing item today discussing Middle East special envoy George Mitchell’s interview with Charlie rose, in which he opines that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “should last no more than two years.  We hope the parties agree. Personally,  I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

Asked about the issue of Jerusalem, Mitchell concedes that it is “very complicated, difficult, emotional on all sides.”

What tipped him off?

What I don’t get: how do you talk about finishing negotiations when there’s not a shred of evidence either side wants them – at least not enough to accept the big political risks serious negotiations will require? Isn’t this just a kind of diplomatic fantasy, talking about how negotiations might conclude when neither side really wants them to begin?

I wonder about a U.S. diplomatic strategy that seems to begin with unrealistic assumptions about the goals of the actors leaders here expect to lead the way.

I don’t buy the reports in the Israeli press – vehemently denied by the White House – that Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, told an Israeli diplomat in Los Angeles that the administration is sick and tired of both Israel and the Palestinians and their lack of movement toward a viable peace process. (see a Jerusalem Post story on the controversy – and the White House’s strong denial – here.)

Say what you want about him, but Emanuel is a seasoned politico with a strong interest in protecting his boss – President Obama.  He knows private talks with an Israeli diplomat are unlikely to stay private for long. He knows the Obama administration continues to have problems with some pro-Israel leaders who think he’s hostile to Israel, or at least to its current government.  He didn’t get to the White House by being dumb.

I do buy the notion that at the highest levels, the administration has concluded prospects for serious Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are poor to nil, and that the decision has already been taken not to waste its already-overextended foreign policy energies seriously pressing for negotiations neither side wants.

What’s left: leaving Mitchell off there in his little diplomatic playground, offering up optimistic-sounding assessments, probing for possible openings, hoping that comes along to change an environment with few signs of hope.  His job: serve as optimist-in-chief, and hope some of his perspective rubs off on the only people who can make negotiations happen: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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.