Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Telling Mideast Negotiators, ‘Have a Nice Life’

Thomas L. Friedman, NYT

In the Times review of the American Mideast negotiator Dennis Ross’s important new history of Israeli-U.S. relations, “Doomed to Succeed,” a telling moment on the eve of the 1991 Madrid peace conference caught my attention. The Palestinian delegation had raised some last-minute reservations with the secretary of state, James A. Baker III. Baker was livid, and told the Palestinians before walking out on them: “With you people, the souk never closes, but it is closed with me. Have a nice life.”

I was struck because that kind of straight talk has been all too absent from U.S. Middle East diplomacy lately. Israelis and Palestinians — way too long at war — are trapped in political hothouses of their own making, incapable of surprising each other with anything positive, and desperately in need of a friendly third-party dose of common sense.

Listening to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel claim last week that the Palestinian grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini — who met Hitler in the early 1940s — gave Hitler the idea for mass murdering all the Jews, you can only conclude that Bibi is in a sealed bubble, with no one around him able to say: “You know Bibi, that is provably historically false. You might want to keep that one to yourself.”

We forget how much the parties need America at times to play the reality principle to break the paralysis in their internal politics. Sometimes their leaders need to say to their cabinets: “I would never agree to this, but those damn Americans broke my arm. See it dangling here! It’s broken! I had to say yes!” Israeli and Palestinian internal politics are brutal. As Baker learned, if you don’t get in their faces on a regular basis, you’re listed as “nap time” on their daily schedules.

(More here.)


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