As if to re-enforce the extensive criticism of the Nobel Committee in giving President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize despite only being in office 8 months and having achieved not even a glimmer of an accomplishment, a shuttle mission undertaken by George Mitchell, the president’s special envoy to the middle east ended with no progress in even getting the parties talking.
Peace talks have been dormant since last December and Obama has not been able to re-start them, much less contribute to negotiations for a settlement.
Since Obama took office there has been an increase in Israeli settlements in the West Bank which has contributed to the breakdown of peace talks, but the only change Obama has brought has been a slight but significant change in Obama’s position.
At first Obama demanded that Israel put a freeze on new settlements, a demand that Netanyahu very publicly rejected. According to Reuters, Obama has now changed his stance now asking Israel for “restraint” on new settlements. So the change in middle east negotiations has been with Obama, not the Israelis or Palestinians.
It was less than a week ago that an Israeli official made the statement that he didn’t think there would ever be a peace settlement and that the parties should just learn to live with the status quo.
The closest the parties have come to a settlement was when Bill Clinton convinced Ehud Barak, then the Israeli prime minister, to concede part of East Jerusalem as a capitol for a Palestinian state as well as other landmark concessions even though Barak knew it would be the end of him politically. Clinton convinced Barak it would be worth the sacrifice and that he would go down in history as a peacemaker.
Arafat turned down the settlement offer however and instead launched the Infitada in 2000 as a response. Years later, before his death, Arafat conceded rejecting the offer was a mistake and in retrospect wished he had accepted the terms Clinton was able to negotiate, terms that the Palestinians will never get from Netanyahu and may never see again from any Israeli prime minister. Had Arafat accepted, the Palestiniians would have had their state 9 years ago with a part of East Jerusalem as their capitol, but not only did Arafat reject the offer, the rejection was strongly endorsed and supported by those in power.
But it shows the stark contrast between Clinton’s approach and Obama’s. Where Clinton was very much hands on in trying to negotiate a peace settlement, Obama seems to rely mostly on speeches and statements and has yet to show any real personal involvment.
The fact that Obama has not even been able to get the two parties talking and are seemingly more far apart than ever underscores the harsh criticism leveled at the Nobel Committee for giving Obama the Peace Prize. They did it based more on a hope that he will accomplish something rather than any actual accomplishment. And right now the Israeli’s and Palestinians are not talking.
With the middle east, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea all current and pressing matters, Obama will have ample opportunity to prove the critics of the Nobel committee’s decision wrong. But so far, especially in the middle east, hopes for a peace settlement have been going in reverse.