So I'll probably be proved a fool, but I'm actually optimistic about the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Obama's proximity talks between the two just started, but already there are rumors, courtesy of the WSJthat
Palestinian negotiators have surprised Washington with a bold opening offer...Palestinians told Mr. Mitchell they are prepared to match offers that they made to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during peace negotiations in 2008, and may be willing to double the amount of West Bank land to be included in a land swap, according to the officials briefed on the negotiations.
This is a refreshing change from the usual dynamic of Israeli offers, Palestinian rejections, and then sweetened Israeli offers. Regardless of who was wrong in the past, Palestinian initiative can only mean that the two sides are closer then ever before to a deal.
Of course, most experts remain skeptical. Aaron Miller, once a major proponent of negotiations, recently wrote The False Religion of Mideast Peace arguing against an American role in negotiations
The painful truth is that faith in America's capacity to fix the Arab-Israeli issue has always been overrated. It's certainly no coincidence that every breakthrough from the Egypt-Israel treaty to the Oslo accords to the Israel-Jordan peace agreement came initially as a consequence of secret meetings about which the United States was the last to know. Only then, once there was local ownership or some regional crisis that the United States could exploit, were we able to move things forward.
I hate to disagree with Miller, but at least I'll do so through praise. If American negotiators did not produce peace treaties out of thin air, it created a balance of power and trust between the two sides that made peace possible.
So I know its rare, but lets take a moment to look at all that American diplomacy has accomplished since 1948. Then a weak Israel was willing to accept refugees in return for negotiations, and the ceasefire line as a permanent border. The Arab world refused to even consider such terms.
Flash-forward to 2010: Israel has peace treaties with both Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. And the Palestinian negotiators are offering more land then Israel demanded in 1948, and to discuss refugees as a perquisite for negotiations. The sides' positions have crossed!
So to a large extent the trick is for America to manage Israeli expectations down, while simultaneously stopping Palestinian demands from rising. This will require the ability to pressure and reward both sides without falling back to inflammatory rhetoric about good guys and bad guys.
So I hope partisans on both sides can put aside their differences and support the President during negotiations. And if they have a connection to the countries involved, urge those leaders to make the heroic concessions needed for peace. If need be, I'll even pay the postage.