Peace this Time?

JERUSALEM – The imminent resumption in Washington of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is good news. But whether these talks will lead to an agreement, let alone within one year as US President Barack Obama hopes, is another matter.

When Obama, two days into his presidency, appointed former Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East, many hoped that within two years his efforts would lead to an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians – and to a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors.

Whether these exaggerated hopes should be traced to Obama’s inexperience or to hubris – or both – is a moot point: what is clear is that, after 18 months and numerous visits to the region, Mitchell was able to achieve only an agreement in principle by Israel and the Palestinians to start talking to each other.

The problem is that they have been talking to each other now for 17 years, under different Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and under two US Presidents. To bring them to the negotiating table again is not a breakthrough, but rather an attempt at damage control. And, while Mitchell’s successful track record in achieving reconciliation in Northern Ireland seemed like an excellent credential for his current job, it may have hindered him in the Middle East.