Focusing on the Attainable


On its surface, the Obama administration’s offer to the Israeli government of a package of diplomatic and military incentives in return for a non-renewable, 90-day settlement construction moratorium doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It’s hard to imagine that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, with anxious American diplomats at their side, will be able to do in three short months what they’ve failed to do for many years – take serious steps toward a final agreement to end their seemingly endless conflict.

Making it harder to grasp: the Palestinians continue to indicate that they expect Washington to produce for them a state that, in reality, can only be created through direct give and take with the government in Jerusalem. While we have seen significant movement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, we have yet to see the faintest signs of flexibility from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Nor have we seen any indication the administration has a plan to deal with Hamas, which continues to control Gaza – and continues to oppose Israel’s very existence.

That said, the Obama administration is correct in its understanding that the risks in the ongoing stalemate continue to mount. The failure of the most recent negotiations can only increase the potential for new deadly violence and the likelihood it will benefit an aggressive Iran, which has recklessly exploited and inflamed the conflict.

The administration would be wise to remember some hard and unchanging realities as it proceeds. An imposed peace cannot be a stable or lasting peace; new ideas and bridging proposals will be useful only if an environment of trust has been created; it’s not enough to demand “confidence-building” measures from Israel while the Palestinians continue to operate mainly as peace process obstructionists.

On the eve of yet another peace process push, it is essential that Washington not overreach. Narrowly focusing on the attainable — such as a few specific border issues – makes far more sense than broadly seeking the unattainable.

And, as we have said so many times before, President Obama needs to reach out to an Israeli public understandably skeptical about his latest foray into Middle East diplomacy. A wing of glittery new F-35s won’t offset a longstanding failure to communicate his plans and concerns. Unless quickly remedied, that failure to demonstrate understanding and empathy will continue to undermine his high-minded plans for a region in torment.