Special Middle East envoy George Mitchell is back in the region conducting his shuttle diplomacy, settlement construction continues apace and the much-anticipated speech of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton managed to avoid hard choices. It’s business as usual, so presumably we can all relax — Israel has dodged another peace bullet.
If the emerging Washington consensus is to be believed, then here is the Middle East peace conundrum waiting to greet the new Obama administration: Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more than ever a strategic priority for the United States, but it also seems more difficult to achieve now, perhaps even unattainable in the foreseeable future.
When a bomb exploded in the Shaja’iyyah district of Gaza last month, killing four Hamas operatives and a 5-year-old girl, Hamas blamed Fatah, and moved violently against its remaining Gazan enclaves. Fatah forces then pursued retribution against Hamas in the West Bank. Another round of intra-Palestinian conflict and bloodletting ensued, with the leading pro-Fatah family in Gaza, the Hilles clan, fleeing to Israel in the hopes of making it to the West Bank.
Even the most hardened of Middle East cynics could be excused for momentarily feeling a fluttering of hope after witnessing the scenes at this week’s peace conference in Annapolis, Md.
Rejection of hubris has become the defining characteristic of the post-Lebanon war mood and debate in Israel. That is understandable.