Peace Process? What Peace Process?

In the Middle East it is said there are three kinds of dead:  dead, dead and buried, dead and buried and not coming back.  The peace process is at stage one and no one seems to care much about reviving it.

The topic will get little more than passing attention at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference that begins this weekend.

Everyone will talk about the desire – and even the need – for peace but the big story will be Iran (see my Jerusalem Post column on this), even for Israel’s lonely dove, President Shimon Peres.  Peres will say Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains the best Palestinian partner with whom to make peace, but he will stress the Iranian threat.  Peres will be the voice of restraint: he doesn’t share Benjamin Netanyahu’s sense of urgency, and he feels recent threats by the prime minister, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other political leaders are unnecessary warmongering, according to Haaretz's Yossi Verter.

Netanyahu, whose interest in the peace process seemed intended more to mollify the Americans and Europeans than to negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians,

will remind a very receptive audience that he has been calling for unconditional negotiations but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has put the whole thing in the deep coma by his alliance with Hamas and his preconditions for sitting down with the Israeli leader.

Moreover, the prime minister will tell AIPAC, which has shared his lack of enthusiasm for the whole venture, nothing can be achieved until the Iranian nuclear threat is removed.

Barack Obama, with no willing partner on either side, has effectively shelved the issue as well. He got off on the wrong foot three years ago with his demand for a settlement freeze and failure to visit Israel and take his case directly to the Israeli people, and he hasn’t fully recovered.  American military and intelligence support for Israel may be at unprecedented high levels by all accounts on both sides, but the personal relationship between the two leaders remains strained.

Netanyahu makes no secret of his disdain for the American president, from a public rebuke in the Oval Office last year to a complaint to visiting senators in Jerusalem last week that any hints that the American administration deviates from Israel’s view of the Iranian threat only encourages Tehran to pursue its nuclear ambitions.

Abbas’ reluctance to talk, demands for a total settlement freeze and other Israeli concessions up front, and his strategy of bypassing direct negotiations by going to the United Nations have only exacerbated his relations with Obama, to say nothing of Netanyahu.

The peace process, however, will top the agenda of the J Street conference later this month. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will speak at the dovish pro-Israel group's gala dinner on March 26 about what can be done to achieve a two-state solution before it's too late, according to J street spokeswoman Jessica Rosenblum.  Some 2,000 supporters are expected to attend the conference at the Washington Convention Center, same site as the Aipac event that begins this weekend.

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.