Obama administration concedes the obvious: Israeli-Palestinian talks stalled

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

The Obama administration seems to be coming to terms with what just about everybody else knows: the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is just as stalemated as ever.

After Secretary of State Clinton’s swing through the region this week, a State Department spokesman conceded the obvious – “things have stalled.”

Today’s Washington Post has an interesting analysis of what’s been happening.

“While still pressing for face-to-face talks between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Binyamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has begun to urge Arab states to encourage Palestinian participation in lower-level talks with Israel to avoid a vacuum,” the Post reports.

But the other Arab countries don’t see much interested, either, leaving administration peacemakers pretty much checkmated.

From everything I hear, administration officials are putting the onus for the continuing stalemate mostly on the Palestinians for jumping on the initial U.S. demand for a complete halt to all settlement construction and making that a precondition for direct talks.

But there is also a widespread belief in the administration that neither side has any real interest in moving forward, and none of the other Arab states want to do anything to change that.

That’s a far cry from the administration’s public expectations in September about a quick resumption of direct talks – and possibly a jump directly into final status issues.

But one analyst I talked to said he’s convinced the administration is taking a much longer view than they have publicly expressed.

Colby College political scientist L. Sandy Maisel said Obama “is three years away from running again, and I believe he thinks he will have eight years in office.  I think the President understands that the nature of this kind of situation is to inch forward very, very slowly.”

Obama has been involved in the Israeli-Palestinian talks “from day one,”  Maisel said – unlike his predecessors.  But he is also realistic and grasps that, contrary to some of the initial rhetoric coming out of the administration, progress will require extraordinary patience.

That’s the message Maisel thinks Obama should communicate in his speech to the Jewish Federations of North America (formerly UJC, formerly UJA) in Washington next week (see the Jewish Week story on that meeting and Obama’s speech here.)

“What he’s saying is, I have a strategy here, a plan – and that strategy is going to take a lot of time to fulfill,” Maisel said. “If you’re unhappy with some of the details, wait and see how it comes out in the end.”

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.