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Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Middle East Breakthrough

It's probably not going to be anything that good but President Obama has secured a Middle East coup.

A day after U.S. special envoy George Mitchell left Israel with no deal on a resumption of peace talks in the region, the White House announced Saturday that President Barack Obama will meet Tuesday in New York with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. That meeting will be immediately preceded by separate meetings between Obama and each leader, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

The announcement changed the Mideast headline from “stalemate” to “breakthrough” as the Obama administration enters a week in which foreign policy takes center stage, with the president appearing at both the opening of the United Nations General Assembly and the G20 economic meetings in Pittsburgh.

Now, getting the two sides to the table is the easy part. The issues here are so complicated that it's very unlikely that anything will come of this meeting. Now, before everyone runs out and condemns Obama even before the meeting, let's all remember that these issues have been out there as long as Israel has been around, and before. No one has been able to resolve them and I simply expect President Obama to be as effective as all his predecessors.

Just look at the issues. Obama wants Netanyahu to stop building settlements. Netanyahu wants some sort assurances for peace. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas has very limited power. That's about as complex a symbiotic relationship as there is. Netanyahu would be a fool to commit to anything. After all, Abbas could promise anything but he has no power over Hamas.

Meanwhile, a major premise of the Obama doctrine is on the line. President Obama insists that if you bring the parties to the table, then geopolitical issues can be resolved. Now, here's the first test. He's now going to have Palestine sitting across the table from Israel. It's the first of many meetings hopefully.

In my opinion, however, face to face chats resolve nothing in these very complicated scenarios. The Palestinian people are fractured. One side simply wants to destroy Israel. The other side, Abbas, claims to want negotiations. Meanwhile, Israel can't seem to figure out how to achieve peace with enemies surrounding it. In that climate, you can talk for the next three lifetimes and nothing will be resolved. President Obama disagrees. We will all soon enough see.

Reagan didn't sit down with Gorbachev until the arms race had broken the Soviet Union. In that, he was negotiating from a position of power. In this negotiation, no one has any power. There is simply chaos. That's a recipe for confusion and a negotiation without a purpose. This appears to be the sort of sit down in which nothing will be decided except all sides will agree to sit down again. That's fine, however many issues need to be resolved that can't be resolved by these sitdowns. Until they are, these sort of sit downs seem to be useless.

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