As the Bush administration winds down, it seems to be pursuing a familiar bid for Middle East peace–minus the level of direct involvement of previous administrations.
What I don’t understand are the public claims of a limited timetable:
“There’s a lot of issues we’ve discussed, issues of importance, the security of the Palestinian people and the Israeli people, the economic advancement of the Palestinian people,” the president said with Mr. Abbas by his side. “The thing that I’m focused on, and you are, is how to define a state that is acceptable to both sides. I’m confident it can get done.”
Mr. Abbas said he believed “very strongly that time is of the essence.”
I doubt that Mahmoud Abbas is following the primaries as close as the political junkies stateside, but it seems fair to assume that Abbas knows that a Republican win is less likely than a Democratic win. So what is the clock ticking down to? I’m assuming it has to be some political event on the Israeli side; otherwise, it’s likely that a Clinton presidency would involve people who had previously worked with Abbas on negotiations during the last Clinton presidency. An Obama administration, on the other hand…would also likely involve former Clinton administration officials, like Dennis Ross and Robert Malley.
Why not wait until the November elections are over and you have a more engaged partner in diplomacy? Changing political regimes slowed negotiations while the Palestinians waited for the outcome of the Peres/Netanyahu election in 1996, and was part of the rationale the US used to pressure Arafat to accept a deal in 2000 when it became clear that Bush would be the next president. So what’s the rush?
I promise to stop taking trivial passages from Megan McArdle posts and commenting on them, but I had to comment on this:
I mean, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the territory just north of western Pennsylvania. And yes, their diners do offer some large servings. In this, they are exactly like the diners in Manhattan, except that the eggs have some flavor, and they usually have extremely good raisin toast. (emphasis added)
Where would someone spend a lot of time just north of western Pennsylvania? Does she mean Buffalo? I spent several years living in northwestern Pennsylvania, and let me tell you, there’s not a whole lot of what you would call “things to do”. Erie, sure, but I grew up in Pennsylvania, so the lake seemed nice. I hope she brought a book.
It seems Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are now part of the “maybe vaccines cause autism, maybe it’s unicorns we should look into this” group of concerned politicians. I’m becoming very tired of this primary.
Sometime contributor Alicia is currently living in Malawi as a member of the Peace Corps. Apparently, Alicia neglected to tell us that she has another blog all about her stay in Malawi. But now we know and can stay informed. With luck (and permission) I’ll cross-post any interesting Malawi related posts.
From Megan McArdle:
But I don’t think of cooking as some sort of spiritual extension of my womb.
Well–ahem–no, of course not. It’s just…huh. (cough). Um. Yeah.
I find Obama’s position that we shouldn’t negotiate with Hamas defensible, despite his avowed willingness to talk to unfriendly foreign leaders for several reasons. The first is that a blanket acceptance of negotiation with any leader without context seems to stretch rhetorical credulity¹. I think that Obama is willing to make unprecedented diplomatic gestures toward different governments in order to signal a change in the way America does business (and to open the possibility of real rapprochement or upgraded relations with these states) , but I don’t think that necessarily entails sitting down with every would-be statesmen. If there’s no real willingness to negotiate or the event is extended photo-op ginned up so that a leader can pretend she/he is doing something–well, what’s the point in showing up?
The second, as per Matt Ygelsias, is that though it might make sense for the US government to refuse to sit down with Hamas, that doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t.
If we’re to learn anything about what it might take to get concessions from Hamas in a real negotiation (or to see how far Hamas would really need to reform its psychological positions toward Israeli offers) then someone has to hear from Hamas. And if people outside of the Palestinian Authority or Israel are to exert influence, some kind of channel (public or private) needs to be opened to Hamas. President Carter gives the US a politically viable way of doing that. Carter can say what he wants to Hamas and report back what Hamas says in return, and if either of them say crazy things, well, it wasn’t an official negotiation and we don’t support it. As an ex-president with a penchant for maverick foreign policy statements, to the consternation of more than one sitting US president, he’d have some credibility. Carter could be a kind of “public back-channel” that has political cover (against the loudest of the Likudniks) and credibility (for those worried that American negotiators are in the thrall of the Israel Lobby) who could provide information to US for potential future negotiations or let us know if such negotiations are aren’t in the cards.
Do I think the Bush administration would go for such a plan? Not bloody likely. Do I think Carter would go for such an arrangement? Perhaps with an Obama or Clinton administration, even then I don’t think Carter’s style (and status as an ex-executive) would mesh well with taking orders from another president or his cabinet.
¹ Would he, could he, in a box? Would he, could he, meet with the Iranians and a fox? No? But he said no preconditions. Typical politician.
Via Chris Blattman (whose econ development blog you should be reading) comes this picture from Stockholm:
Then again, I do have Angels in America on the brain as I’m preparing to teach it starting this week (and over the next several weeks) in my English 201 course. Yes, his father was murdered by his uncle and now has the throne, but it’s just such a wonderful day to go yatching.