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Building Palestine From the Bottom Up

JERUSALEM – As President Barack Obama’s special Middle East envoy, former US Senator George Mitchell, learned during his visit to the region, America’s efforts at Israeli-Palestinian peace-making are running up against three major obstacles. They will, no doubt, also arise in Obama’s upcoming meetings with the region’s leaders.

The first obstacle – indeed, the issue that stands front and center today – is the ongoing Palestinian civil war, with Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip in defiance of Abu Mazen’s Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians’ basic failure at nation-building makes any meaningful peace talks with Israel – let alone an agreement – almost impossible at the moment. With Palestinians unable to agree among themselves on a minimal national consensus, how can peace be established between them and Israel?

Second, with Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, Israel now has a government which is far less likely to be willing – or able – to make major concessions and evacuate hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers from the West Bank.

Third, and most significantly, the 1993 Israel-PLO agreement has until now failed to achieve its aim. Attempts to revive the Oslo peace process – the “Road Map” and the Annapolis process – have similarly failed to achieve more than vacuous declarations and hollow photo opportunities. The causes of these 15 years of failure should be considered, so that Mitchell’s mission does not become another stillborn effort.