U.S. must now start twisting Israeli and Palestinian arms
Obama aimed to obtain too much, too quickly with pan-Islamic arrangement he presented in his Cairo speech.
Every time disaster strikes anywhere in the world, I am filled anew with admiration at how ready and willing we are to assist, and how speedy, effective, organized and wholehearted that assistance is.
We did not rush aid to Haiti because there is a Jewish community there. We went there for humanitarian reasons. As a nation that has experienced disasters and bereavement for generations, other nations' disasters do not leave us indifferent. Our photographers and reporters hurried over there not to humiliate some Turkish ambassador, but because they want to show - and rightly so - an attractive side of Israel, for a change.
It is easier for us to organize rescue operations outside Israel than do all that is necessary to advance peace inside it and thus prevent deadly attacks on our home front. There is no need to wait for an "earthquake," as the Yom Kippur War was dubbed, to achieve a "peace of the brave." Anyone who remembers the Scud missiles from Iraq, the 34 days of missiles and Katyusha rockets on the north during the Second Lebanon War and the eight years of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip must do everything possible to prevent any excuse for a new war that could strike our civilian population.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who returned to Israel this week, has not achieved anything in his visits so far. Despite the halo he won by his successful mediation in Northern Ireland, he is no James Baker. Nor is he Henry Kissinger. Baker was tough and didn't like our tricks. Kissinger, who was closer to his president, knew how to turn algebra into arithmetic, as Zalman Aran once reportedly said.
Mitchell's views on solving the conflict, as he outlined them back when he chaired a presidential commission in 2001, may have been reasonable, but they were unfeasible at that time. He believed Israel had to freeze settlement construction and the Palestinians had to stop the terror attacks. Yet Mitchell's visit this week could be very important, if he abandons his slow mediation and instead puts a more definite and effective presidential plan on the table.
After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed publicly to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' response was peculiar. Instead of agreeing to begin negotiations, he demanded that Israel first freeze construction in the settlements and added several other conditions. This refusal appeared on the face of it like a continuation of the Palestinian tradition of not missing any opportunity that could be missed. For Netanyahu's approach, at least in theory, marked a dramatic turnabout that put his stand in line with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's formula - the 1967 lines plus territorial swaps.
Mitchell said in a television interview that he believed it was possible to reach an agreement within two years. But the truth is that the chances of an agreement are getting smaller - not least due to the settlement-freeze policy adopted by U.S. President Barack Obama, on one hand, and Netanyahu's condition - that the Iranian nuclear issue must be solved first - on the other.
In any case, Obama's first year as president was lost as far as a peace settlement is concerned. Obama aspired to obtain too much, too quickly: namely, the pan-Islamic arrangement he presented in his Cairo University speech. Another reason was the administration's loss of confidence in Netanyahu.
Netanyahu may have agreed to a solution in principle, but in reality, he is continuing to lead us astray, one Middle East expert said. Yitzhak Rabin had a 15-year time-out between his first term as prime minister and his second, when he returned as a man of peace. Bibi is in no hurry to make peace. He returned to power for the purpose of returning to power.
Mitchell has so far been convenient for Netanyahu, as he has focused mainly on being present. This does not stem from Mitchell's weakness, but from Obama's. It is not clear why Obama has not forced Abbas to respond to Bibi's two-state proposal. And it is not clear why Mitchell keeps coming and going but has not yet presented an operative plan for an agreement authorized and sponsored by the president.
It is very important that on this visit, Mitchell twist Abbas' arm and put the credibility of Bibi's speech at Bar-Ilan University to the test. No agreement will be reached without a plan, and without starting negotiations. It is important that this time, Mitchell not leave before the white smoke is visible - i.e., without a plan and a timetable both for beginning negotiations and for reaching an agreement.
This is essential to keep Iran from getting the bomb, and us from being forced, heaven forbid, to hold onto our disaster survival kits in order to save ourselves.