Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Team Obama Enters a New Phase in Israel, Palestinian Talks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Team Obama Enters a New Phase in Israel, Palestinian Talks

Article excerpt

Direct talks failed over settlements. Now it's indirect talks over core issues. But if Netanyahu couldn't deliver on settlements, which he called a 'peripheral' issue, how can he agree on more fundamental problems?

George Mitchell, special US envoy to the Middle East, is back in the region this week just days after the United States had to abandon its attempt at direct talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. If nothing else, the US is dogged in its pursuit of peace.

Mr. Mitchell's trip on the heels of failure brings to mind his comments in August, when he announced direct negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Answering skeptical reporters, Mitchell recalled the long road to peace in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Bosnia:

"It takes patience, persistence, a willingness to go back again and again, to not take the first no as a final no, to not take the 50th no as the final no or the 100th no."

The world is beyond counting how many times the US has attempted to facilitate the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state since the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967, when Israel took possession of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

This last time ended in embarrassing failure. The US was unable to get Israel to freeze settlement building for three months - a Palestinian condition for direct talks - in exchange for a more- than-generous security package and diplomatic promises.

Much of the commentary is that the failure made President Obama look weak. Actually, it shows Mr. Netanyahu as politically feeble, unable to move his coalition and unwilling to risk his government for what is so clearly in Israel's long-term interest.

Now, the US is back to the shuttle diplomacy of indirect talks, although apparently more robust ones. "We will push the parties to grapple with core issues," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a speech on Dec. 10.

On her list: borders and security arrangements; settlements, water, and refugees; and the toughest, the status of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.

Netanyahu has, of course, responded favorably to the change. …

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