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Mitchell vs. Abrams: Can-do vs. Can't-do on Middle East Peace

For the very few - not more than a handful, I am sure - who don't routinely follow the Washington Jewish Week, here is my latest piece, published in today's issue.

In part, this article was an outlet to channel my outrage at Elliott Abrams' matter-of-fact comments (in his recent Weekly Standard article and in his interview with the Jerusalem Post) that throughout his term in Bush's White House, holding the Israel-Palestine portfolio and entrusted by President Bush with implementing the two-state "Bush vision," he never believed that it was either viable or even desirable. Abrams was the point-man but he never believed in his mission and admittedly was a naysayer, an obstructionist.

I think it takes a lot of chutzpah for the person who was supposed to be the chief implementer of the President's policy on this issue to admit to have poo-pooed it all along, and to then depict himself as "the resident skeptic," a "little black cloud." How cynical!

Ori Nir is the Spokesman of Americans for Peace Now

February 27, 2009
U.S. peace pursuits - finally - look serious
by Ori Nir
Special to WJW
True, Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu will probably soon form a hard-line, hawkish government. True, the weak, two-headed Palestinian leadership, divided between the West Bank and Gaza, between Fatah and Hamas, is an obstacle to progress. And true, the angry atmosphere in the region following the Gaza war complicates Mideast peace efforts.
But there is also good news, and it's coming from Washington. For the first time in years, there is an American administration that puts action behind its rhetoric. And - so it seems - there is congressional leadership willing to give the administration the backing it needs for a determined peacemaking effort.
At the White House, President Barack Obama's first international calls from the Oval Office were to the Palestinian president and to the Israeli prime minister. One of his first appointments was that of George Mitchell as his special Middle East envoy.
Mitchell's pick is significant. The former Senate majority leader brings with him not only credibility and gravitas. He also brings to the table a record of success, having brokered the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. Last week, as he prepared for his second visit to the region, Mitchell briefed Jewish community leaders, highlighting his can-do approach. He said that he "really and honestly" believes that an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution is doable. He noted that although his efforts in Northern Ireland were perceived at times as hopeless, he remained hopeful and persevered. "I had 700 days of failure and one day of success," he said, alluding to the breakthrough that led to the signing of the Good Friday agreement.
Mitchell's sober yet determined comments last week were particularly refreshing, coming days after a Jerusalem Post interview with Elliott Abrams, who in his various roles in the National Security Council dominated the Israel-Palestine portfolio during the past eight years. Abrams came to the White House in 2001, with a clear record of publicly opposing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The interview demonstrates that he had never really changed his mind. Abrams told the paper that he never believed that reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord was possible, "so I was always like a little black cloud in all these meetings, saying, 'I don't think this is going to happen.' "
Shockingly, or not, Abrams explains in the interview, in detail, why President George W. Bush's two-state solution, which Abrams was tasked with advancing on Bush's behalf, never seemed viable to him - at least not in the time frame that Bush had set.
Abrams' interview is a stark illustration of the Bush administration's weakness when it came to pursuing peace for Israel and its neighbors. Bush and his aides talked the talk, but never backed it up with determined action.
Obama's seriousness about dealing with the Middle East is having impact beyond the White House. It is emboldening key members of Congress to show seriousness of their own. Last week, Sen. John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to the region with stops that included Damascus and Gaza. His trip underscored America's renewed focus on diplomacy and engagement and made a bold public statement about it.
And in the House, Mideast Subcommittee chair Gary Ackerman last week sharply criticized not only Palestinian violence, but also Israeli settlement construction, settler violence and "the constant reiteration that 'they only understand the language of force.' "
Other congressional leaders are showing laudable determination to support the administration's Middle East policy.
Sure, the new president and his aides will need regional partners to advance toward peace. Sure, Obama's Washington may have to assert its determination to move forward in its dealings with the parties. And, sure, achieving Middle East peace is a monumental challenge that involves political risks.
But this administration, recognizing the U.S. national security value of Arab-Israeli peace, and recognizing that this goal can only be achieved with robust American leadership, seems willing to invest both the elbow grease and the political capital necessary to reach this goal.
Regional leaders must choose: Either cooperate and, at the very least, not be blamed for failure, or obstruct and bear the consequences.
Ori Nir is the spokesperson of Americans for Peace Now.

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