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“Major issues were resolved via informal get-togethers rather than formal meetings,” White related in a recent article on the website of the magazine Foreign Policy, “notably with [Israeli military] Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, at his home, or with other key Israeli commanders in relaxed settings and far from the view of eager diplomatic note takers. It was often at these meetings where resolutions to long-standing issues — such as the opening of the a new West Bank crossing site, elimination of long-standing checkpoints, and facilitation of the Palestinian Authority’s 2008 Bethlehem Investment Conference — were hashed out.”
American diplomats and political leaders, meanwhile, struggled with the Israelis and Palestinians in their more formal settings, while spurning, according to White, the proven avenue of trust that the United States itself had fostered. The USSC’s approach, he wrote, “was counterintuitive to our very hierarchic and cautious counterparts at the State Department, who preferred to make a decision only when every option had been thoroughly examined or exhausted, and only upon final written permission from Washington.”
White believes that greater consultation with the security coordinators could have given American peace efforts in the Middle East a better chance. And he offers concrete examples.
In late 2010, following the failure of the most recent American attempt to bring together Israelis and Palestinians through “proximity talks,” Senator George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s special envoy to the region, suggested that Israel should transfer security responsibilities to the Palestinians in additional areas of the West Bank. When Dayton, as the senior American in charge of building Palestinian forces, was asked for his opinion, he told Mitchell, according to White’s recollection, that it would be a bad idea. Only five of the needed 10 Palestinian battalions were in operational shape, and besides, Dayton reported, the Palestinian security chiefs had told him themselves that they were not yet interested in extending their responsibilities.
Mitchell and his team flatly dismissed Dayton’s advice.
Dayton and his aide were not surprised when the Israelis turned down the offer.
“When you throw something at the Israelis that is completely ill thought out, half-baked, do you think it will resonate?” White asked. “It’s amateur hour.”
Dayton handed in his resignation shortly after, in October 2010. His aides believe that this incident was the last straw. Afterward, White observed, despite Dayton’s five years at the USSC’s helm, President Obama never asked him for an exit interview, though Dayton met three times with George W. Bush in the Oval Office to review the progress of the mission.
The frustration of Dayton’s team focused particularly on Mitchell, who took over the peace promoting efforts in early 2009. Cooperation between the diplomatic team led by Mitchell and the security mission led by Dayton was kept to a minimum. The efforts were seen as separate. White accused Mitchell and his aides of having no experience on the ground.