I watched Thursday's State Department show on the peace talks on C-Span the other night and was left with a sense of despair.
There were very few people in the fancy rooms and little sense of excitement. The leaders all seemed motheaten, except for Netanyahu, who always reminds me of a landlord or a mob boss. George Mitchell is the most impressive, but even he looks out of date and a little hard of hearing. (Here's a link to the Clinton, Netanyahu, Abbas table. And here to George Mitchell.)
Clinton seems to know she's screwed. She appealed over the heads of Abbas and Netanyahu to real people over there-- and implicitly to you and me at our dinner tables-- not to desert her.
I want to conclude by just saying a few words directly to the people of the region. Your leaders may be sitting at the negotiating table, but you are the ones who will ultimately decide the future. You hold the future of your families, your communities, your people, this region, in your hands. For the efforts here to succeed, we need your support and your patience. Today, as ever, people have to rally to the cause of peace, and peace needs champions on every street corner and around every kitchen table. I understand very well the disappointments of the past. I share them. But I also know we have it within our power today to move forward into a different kind of future, and we cannot do this without you.
Translation: these guys can't deliver a newspaper.
Abbas has dignity and Netanyahu is frightening. Abbas spoke concretely of the final-status issues, including water, and called on Israel to honor its commitment re settlement building, while Netanyahu spoke emotionally about his only real topic, Israel's security:
In these 12 years, new forces have risen in our region, and we’ve had the rise of Iran and its proxies and the rise of missile warfare. And so a peace agreement must take into account a security arrangement against these real threats that have been directed against my country, threats that have been realized with 12,000 rockets that have been fired on our territory, and terrorist attacks that go unabated.
Translation: We have remote control machine guns in towers set up to kill Gazans, and we will never give up the Jordan Valley.
Then Netanyahu ratcheted it up, with "the blood of innocents":
The last two days have been difficult. They were exceedingly difficult for my people and for me. Blood has been shed, the blood of innocents: four innocent Israelis gunned down brutally, two people wounded, seven new orphans. President Abbas, you condemned this killing. That’s important. No less important is to find the killers, and equally to make sure that we can stop other killers. They seek to kill our people, kill our state, kill our peace. And so achieving security is a must.
Kill kill kill. Or as Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace says, "while the U.S. government condemned Tuesday's brutal attack, it never condemned even the assault on Gaza almost two years ago, when over 1400 people, mostly civilian, including over 400 children, were killed. This disproportionate response is an indicator of the apparent inability of the U.S. to be an 'honest broker' in these talks." No wonder the rooms seem empty.
It is common to hear the analysis that Israel needs nothing from these talks because the conflict is being managed, while the Palestinians need a deal to get freedom. I don't buy this and neither does George Mitchell. The Palestinians haven't had freedom in their entire history. Most Israelis may be complacent, but the soul of their society is shriveling, and any intelligent Israeli senses the loss of the world's good opinion. Israel is stuck in an earlier era of history and daily losing legitimacy, due to rightwing ethnocentric politicians like Netanyahu.
Mitchell said as much at the end, when he appealed for a sudden shift in the weather:
we believe that there are dynamic changes that [can] occur. There are more obvious difficulties that lie ahead for both sides if they don’t reach agreement that may be even more obvious than they were five or eight or 12 years ago.
You have to remember that these leaders must weigh two things. They must weigh the difficulties they face in getting agreement and they must weigh the difficulties they will face if they don’t get an agreement. And we believe it’s a very powerful argument that if you subject these to careful, reasoned, and rational analysis, to conclude that the latter difficulties, if they don’t get an agreement, will be much greater and have a much more profound impact on their societies than those they face in trying to get an agreement.
Mitchell wasn't talking about the Palestinians there. He was saying that if Israel doesn't make sacrifices, in a hurry, it faces a choice of official apartheid, ethnic cleansing or one-state. He understands that the 62-year-old Jewish state is now at risk; he is despairing too.