New Middle East task forces, familiar faces, same old problems

 Over at Politico. Laura Rozen is reporting that the Obama administration has created two task forces to seek new ideas about how to get beyond the current stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

What I’m wondering: how are they going to get new ideas from panels comprised largely of old faces from the unsuccessful efforts of the past?

She reports that “[o]ne task force has been convened by Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley, former national security advisers to Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively, to offer recommendations on the Middle East peace process to the National Security Council.”

The second, led by the Brookings Institution’s Martyn Indyk, a State Department official during the Clinton administration and a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, is meeting with Palestinian negotiators, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and Dennis Ross, a senior NSC adviser and another State Department veteran.

This comes, she writes, as the latest U.S. strategy – asking both sides to provide “substantive answers on borders and security” – is coming up dry.

All good, experienced people. But new ideas? I have a hard time imagining this is a group that’s going to look for new paradigms.

It seems to me that none of this addresses the key problem: the fact that neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor Mahmoud Abbas have any real interest in moving the peace process forward at this time, at least if it means making compromises on any key issues. And they have a lot of political reasons for doing nothing.

The Palestinians seem less and less willing to give an inch on refugees and on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state; the PA’s support for those claiming Jews have no historic or religious connection to the land seems almost calculated to keep Israel away from the negotiating table.

The Israelis are speaking with bulldozers as they ratchet up settlement building, and Netanyahu is making it clearer by the day that previous frameworks that see the disposition of Jerusalem as a key final status issue mean BUBKES to him.

The problem isn’t a lack of ideas; the problem is a lack of willing participants.

Many on the left are hoping the reassessment results in a decision to advance an American plan, or at least a series of bridging proposals.

But again, it’s hard to see how this will work with the current leadership in the region, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that if it tries, the Obama administration will once again be outmaneuvered by leaders on both sides who will say the right things and do almost nothing.

Maybe what the administration needs is a few task forces comprised of experts who haven’t been closely associated with past failures. But in the absence of a real willingness on both sides to compromise and to take political risks in the quest for peace, that’s not going to make much of a difference, either.

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.