U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell has issued a statement confirming that the first round of “proximity talks” began yesterday between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Here follow some reflections on what Mitchell calls “serious and wide-ranging” discussions and what I call a counterproductive but important development:
· Counterproductive because not only will these talks fail to achieve any of Mitchell’s three goals — “to enable the parties to move to direct negotiations,” which “will result in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and lead to “a comprehensive peace in the Middle East” — but they will render a resolution of the conflict more difficult and more distant.
· Important because the “peace process” will drive everything else, even the Iranian nuclear-bomb build-up, to the sidelines, and it has major implications for everyone involved.
· Mitchell announced that both parties agreed to take steps “to help create an atmosphere that is conducive to successful talks”: Abbas promised he “will work against incitement of any sort,” and Netanyahu said will be no construction at the Ramat Shlomo project for two years.” The symmetry, however, is false. The PA has promised innumerable times to end incitement and never done so; I predict it will not do so this time either. In contrast, the Israelis made a precedent-breaking concession not to build in their own capital city, a concession they will rue.
· The U.S. government has adopted an obnoxious, parental, hectoring tone. Just listen to Mitchell: The two sides “are both trying to move forward in difficult circumstances and we commend them for that. We have received commitments from both sides.… As both parties know, if either takes significant actions during the proximity talks that we judge would seriously undermine trust, we will respond to hold them accountable and ensure that negotiations continue.” And what will that response be, a spanking?
In conclusion, then: Everything in this statement is bad and nothing in it is good.