Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East Envoys Concede Past Mistakes, but Offer No Clear Path

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East Envoys Concede Past Mistakes, but Offer No Clear Path

Article excerpt

An April 25 panel discussion entitled "Lessons of Arab-Israeli Peacemaking: A Look Back and Ahead" hosted by the Middle East Institute at the National Press Club featured four of the Clinton administration's top negotiators responsible for U.S. policy toward the peace process.

One might have expected to hear fresh, bold prescriptions from this panel of seasoned negotiators who'd had years to reflect on their experiences. Yet, while the audience heard mea culpas, the envoys remained cautious in prescribing future steps, except to strongly urge American engagement.

Joining fellow envoys Dennis Ross, Robert Malley and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, Aaron David Miller, Ross's deputy, allowed perhaps the sharpest critique in his retrospective. He seemed genuinely troubled by the whole experience- and the lack of American even-handedness. Referring to American management lapses, he said: "We lost control of our policy. We surrendered the initiative to Barak too early."

Criticizing both sides, he said: "We were not nearly tough enough on settlements ' with the Israelis.. .we never had an honest discussion....we never set an economic cost." Regarding the Palestinians, Miller said: "We were too permissive, four bombs in nine days in 1996 should have convinced us....we coddled Arafat."

Miller also described Washington's Syria strategy as poorly handled, a distraction, and damaging to American credibility.

Former Special Envoy Dennis Ross ascribed the failure of the peace process in part to the U.S. effort to engage on what he called "existential issues" such as Jerusalem. "We often adopted the Israeli position and built from there," he explained, blaming the absence of a clear Palestinian position as the primary reason for the imbalanced approach. Ross also directly faulted Yasser Arafat, saying, "If Nelson Mandela had been the leader of the Palestinians, we would have succeeded."

Martin Indyk critiqued the American role, stating, "We do much better when we use our power to shape the strategic concept of peacemaking, rather than get down to the weeds of the process."

The Australian-born Indyk disputed Miller's assertion that the Clinton administration had been misled on the Syrian track by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, defending the benefit an earlier "Syrian deal" would have contributed.

According to Indyk, "The Bush administration has a preference for promoting democracy rather than promoting peace," warning that "If they do not find a way to see where the dots are connected, we'll likely end up without democracy and without peace. …

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