Two years into her term, and after carefully avoiding any success-free issues, Hillary
Clinton has finally launched herself into the Middle East peace process. According to Roger Cohen in the New York Times,
"The heavy lifting is now in Clinton’s hands".
As evidence of Clinton’s new role, Cohen lists a video conference with the Palestinian prime minister, where the US secretary of state announced $150 million in US aid to the Palestinian Authority
and said the Obama administration was “deeply disappointed” by recent Israeli behaviour.
Mrs Clinton’s foray into the Middle Eastern quagmire is interesting. It shows that the Obama administration is not going to give up and will, despite the increased opposition in the US
Congress, push ahead with its peace-making efforts. Given the tenor of recent US-Israeli relations, the Middle East conflict can now be added to the list of likely Executive-Congress disputes
alongside the START treaty.
Second, it shows that Mrs Clinton either feels she needs something to show for her time at the State Department – and believes there is a genuine chance of success; or that she has accumulated
enough political capital – being one of the US government’s most popular members – that she can afford to use a little in the last two years.
Can it work? Many Middle East experts and former negotiators are surprisingly optimistic these days. Perhaps it is a professional hazard, as I don’t see the conditions that would allow Benjamin
Netanyahu to make concessions, or enable Mahmoud Abbas to bring Fatah and Hamas with him.
A 90-day extension of the partial freeze on settlement building, the US short-term aim, does not automatically produce a viable final-status agreement in that time period. Smaller issues, like the
future border line between Israel and a Palestinians state, may be resolved. But even that seems a tad ambitious. Other sticking points will be much more difficult to resolve – particularly
Jerusalem’s future status and the deal offered to
Palestinian refugees – because the possibility of trade-offs across issues is diminished.
Failure, however, may dent US credibility further, particularly after the G-20 Seoul Summit stripped another coat of diplomatic paint off the Obama administration. Mrs Clinton has her work cut out.