Israel Should Learn From U.S. How to Pace Diplomacy

Tripartite summit in N.Y. underscores discrepancies between mentalities of Jerusalem and Washington.

Most Israelis like the United States, but cannot connect to the American character.

Here we improvise and don't wait in line - there friends arrange to meet far in advance and read the instruction manual before operating electrical appliances.

So too in diplomacy. In Israel war is declared after a two-hour debate, and daring peace plans are concocted without deliberations or consultations. In America months are devoted to preparing every diplomatic or military move.

The tripartite summit meeting to be convened in New York Tuesday by U.S. President Barack Obama with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts underscores the discrepancies between the mentalities of Jerusalem and Washington.

Israelis expected (some hopefully and others fearfully) that Obama would reveal a peace plan, and push Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas into working out the nitty-gritty.

When it became clear these expectations were overblown, they were replaced by dismissal, and so-called "officials in Jerusalem" belittled the three-party summit as an unnecessary event.

But Americans work at a different pace than Israelis. Obama didn't promise to present a quick solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He promised he would be more involved than George W. Bush, and work toward reviving the peace process.

Making good

Obama has thus far made good on his promises: He appointed George Mitchell special envoy to the Mideast, and Tuesday will meet with leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide for the first time since Netanyahu returned to power.

Neither Netanyahu nor Abbas will be overawed by what Obama says, but they also won't be able to refuse him.

The time that has passed before the summit was not wasted, but was used to improve conditions in the West Bank, remove checkpoints and bolster security coordination between the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and Palestinian security services.

Obama's diplomatic timetable is different from those of Netanyahu or Abbas.

The U.S. president's term is confined to four years, at the end of which he may be reelected.

He is not dependent on a coalition in which the majority of members oppose diplomatic steps, as is Netanyahu, or in legalistic tricks keeping him in power after his term has ended, as is Abbas.

That leaves Obama time to work determinedly, yet gradually.

This is also Mitchell's style: another meeting, another discussion, another preparation, all aimed primarily at building trust and bringing both sides closer to the bigger decisions to be made later.

The Americans absorbed the barbs traded between Israel and the Palestinians on missed opportunities and the failure of the peace process, and simply continued in their work.

That's why we must view the New York summit as a step which could lead to renewed negotiations, and not as a dramatic event that will determine once and for all whether peace will ever come.