In the long-running Israeli-Palestinian peace process, we seem to have grown accustomed to failure. So while the inability of Barack Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, to restart peace talks is disappointing, it is not surprising.
Peace harmed by petty squabbles
In the long-running Israeli-Palestinian peace process, we seem to have grown accustomed to failure. So while the inability of Barack Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, to restart peace talks is disappointing, it is not surprising. Given the state of Israeli and Palestinian politics, there is little impetus on either side to make compromises. There is a limit to the ability of outside participants to influence the parties, even participants as powerful as the US.
Though America has only limited ability to mould the peace process, its participation is vital. It is therefore concerning to see US influence so damaged. The Obama administration's diplomatic offensive to obtain a settlement freeze has succeeded only in driving the Israelis and Palestinians further into their shells, turning what was a delicate diplomatic dance between the two sides into a zero-sum game.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, needs a settlement freeze, but the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will not or cannot give it to him. While the US waltzed around the issue, Mr Abbas could blame Washington for not pressuring the Israelis. But after the US pushed so hard, he has had to join in. The Palestinians are right that a settlement freeze is an obligation under international mandates, but negotiation, not UN resolutions, will achieve peace and a Palestinian state. And it is a problem when the Palestinians' starting point for negotiations is anathema to the ideological heart of the current Israeli government.
Of course, Mr Netanyahu has capitalised on both the overstretching of the Americans and the bluster of the Palestinians. He inflames the Palestinian side by saying that the Israelis will always require a military presence in any Palestinian state, to ensure that they behave themselves. He then points to the infuriated response by the Palestinians to his petty politics as a sign that they are unprepared to take his outstretched hand. He has been the only winner in this entire debacle.
The truth of the matter is that both sides have a duty to come to the negotiating table. The Palestinians cannot allow the justice of their claims to interfere with the realisation of their national ambitions. The Israelis cannot continue to pander to the political fringe. The US, meanwhile, must shepherd the two sides towards a resolution, not drive them apart.