Memo to Mitchell: Bring a peace plan or stay home
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a black hole swallowing up goodwill ambassadors throughout the ages.
Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, both wear luxury watches. But their watches lack hands. For them, nothing is burning until everything goes up in flames.
Sunday will see the conclusion of another pointless visit by the U.S. special envoy. There will be a second meeting with the prime minister, and that will be enough. We still won't grasp the purpose of George Mitchell's frequent trips here, nor will we understand why the emissary would make a mockery of himself and the people who dispatch him.
Mitchell could have sat on the banks of the Potomac River and lamented the bad memories from the Middle East while taking comfort in the good memories from Northern Ireland.
Here he is, once again landing in Lod. Soon he will be whisked away for a meeting with the president. It's always good to start a trip with him. Shimon Peres infuses a spirit of optimism. The future is here, you just need to reach out and touch it.
Peres will wax poetic to his guest about the good people he will encounter on the way, and about the prime minister who pursues an agreement that just keeps running away. Israel is willing to give away half the kingdom, but there just aren't any Palestinians ready to rule it.
As Peres waxes eloquently, the defense minister waits in the wings. Indeed, it's hard for Mitchell to understand exactly what Barak is saying, but it's impossible not to be impressed with the depth of his analysis. There's no need to use this occasion to reach an agreement; after all, Barak is taking off for America tonight. How pleasant it is to meet in Washington. We'll see you next week and continue to chat.
The key meeting, of course, is with the prime minister. That, too, can be done virtually and without getting angry along the way. And the timing, oh what awful timing, just a few days before the Likud Central Committee meeting. And with senior ministers Eli Yishai, Avigdor Lieberman, Benny Begin and Moshe Ya'alon peeking in, this is all Bibi can offer at the moment. And later on: a few more imperial gestures, a few more roadblocks that will be and won't be removed, and no more Bidenesque welcomes. That's a promise.
Mitchell, for his part, is now singing Israel's praises, as if he were following the talking points the White House updates every now and then. This week, in the wake of Independence Day and the International Bible Contest, the strings are being plucked with finesse and there are no wind instruments in the background. This week, Netanyahu is being handled, for a change, with a soft stick instead of an officer's staff. Maybe he will come to his senses.
What did Mitchell think would happen on his next visit? What did he think would come of the latest of his who-knows-how-many trips? One in which he arrives with empty hands and a diplomatic mask that conceals the revulsion all over his face. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a black hole that swallows up goodwill ambassadors throughout the ages, none of whom has returned alive. Tony Blair is just the latest example of the lost and the despaired. Where is he today?
That's why Mitchell should not bother making his next visit without carrying a detailed American plan with him, one marked by boldness and determination. The United States should leave this plan on the table in Jerusalem and Ramallah and then leave. Either take it or shoot yourselves in the head. If there is no such plan, Mitchell might as well stay home and play with his grandchildren.