In Foreign Policy, Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign policy director, explains his evolution from hawk to, well, not exactly an inhabitant of the peace camp, but to recognition of the inevitability of U.S. engagement toward Israeli-Palestinian peace:
Martin [Indyk] never did succeed in converting me to the peace camp, but over time I saw the undeniable evidence that he was right about the imperatives of U.S. foreign policy. Sooner or later, every president turns to the peace process, and the Mideast advisors who move to the president’s inner circle are the ones he thinks have the best ideas about how to move forward toward a contractual peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
He also has newsy stuff about how George Mitchell is doggedly bridging the gaps between the Israelis and Palestinians to establish the "terms of reference" for negotiations:
Defying skeptics who say you can bridge a river but not an ocean, Mitchell keeps going at it, and his perseverance is paying off. While no one was watching, Netanyahu has in fact agreed to language that Mitchell can accept. With the Israeli agreement in his pocket, Mitchell is now working to bring Abbas around, according to sources close to the discussions.
The issues are not small. Abbas wants to enshrine the 1967 boundary as sacrosanct, even though that line was merely a military demarcation after the war that ended in 1949 and had never been recognized by the Palestinians or anyone else as a legal border. Reflecting the Israeli consensus, Netanyahu insists that future agreed frontiers have to meet Israel’s security imperatives and reflect post-1967 demographic realities, whether or not they diverge from the former armistice line. But Netanyahu has accepted a solution based on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s formulation: "an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders thatreflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."
Rosen also reports on agrement on TORs between Mitchell and Netanyahu on Jerusalem, refugees and deadlines, and concludes that "Netanyahu has put the ball in the Palestinian court."
A couple of things: Rosen is not a mouthpiece for anyone but himself, at least, he no longer is (and I’m not sure who was whose mouthpiece in his AIPAC days). But he maintains superb contacts in Jerusalem. And the tone of this suggests that rifts between George Mitchell and the Netanyahu government are vastly overstated — and the same goes for reports of Mitchell’s impotence and his threats to quit. And while Rosen says the ball is in Abbas’ court, it sounds as if Mitchell is tailoring the TORs to what he understands Abbas is able to accommodate.*
But: As one of the sane commenters (as opposed to the "Rosen is a spy, the Jews run the world" commenters) notes, Gaza appears nowhere in this formulation. No one in Jerusalem, Washington or Ramallah has yet posited a plan that takes into account Hamas’ control of the Strip.
Finally: Rosen (like Hillary Rodham Clinton before him) says Netanyahu’s settlement freeze is unprecedented. I’ve heard this across the board, even from those who criticize the freeze as a feint and as not far-reaching enough — but what exactly did Yitzhak Shamir do in 1991, under pressure from the first President Bush? Was that not a freeze? (I’m genuinely wondering, if anyone can elucidate, please do.) UPDATE: I had a senior moment. Shamir, of course, did not freeze settlement expansion, although the first President Bush demanded it (as did his predecessors). Neither did Yitzhak Rabin, although, according to this account, it was Rabin who introduced the notion of "natural growth."
*Of course, one could go all crazy-conspiratorial here, and posit that the Israelis are leaking comity with Mitchell as a means of undermining his efforts to reach out to the Palestinians — but that kind of thinking, I find, usually founders on the reality of "too clever by half."