A New Israeli – Palestinian Mandate?

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When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visits Washington next week, he’ll find a radically different political climate: There’s a new Democratic majority in Congress. President Bush is thinking about his legacy and last two years in office. Members of Bush 41’s administration like James Baker and Brent Scowcroft are back in positions of influence if not outright power. It seems the realists have edged out the neo-cons. And Washington is talking about a kind of “course correction” in Iraq.

Given all of these factors, is there or could there be new political will to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Is there a new mandate to solve this set of complex problems? Has something, anything, changed since this summer?

Other questions to jump-start a conversation about the domestic political side of things: Can Secretary Rice go back to the Middle East and broker a deal, or is a new face required for the job? If so, who might that be? Will Washington be willing to talk to key players like Syria, Iran and Hezbollah, whom they’ve avoided in the past?

Steve Clemons

Director of the American Strategy Program, New America Foundation

Blogger, The Washington Note

Daniel Levy

Senior Fellow, New America Foundation

Policy and International Director, The Geneva Initiative

Member of the official Israel negotiating team at the Oslo B and Taba talks

Steve Van Evera

Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Author, Causes of War

Shlomo Ben-Ami

Former Israeli Foreign Minister, 2000-2001, and member of the Knesset 1996-2002

Author, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace

Extra Credit Reading

Allison Kaplan Sommer, Bits and Pieces, An Unsealed Room, November 10, 2006: “How about them elections? My inner liberal American is happy and cheering about the change regarding domestic issues and my inner Israeli/resident of the Middle East who would like to stay alive is quite worried.”

Via Potter: Haaretz Editorial, A change of direction on Assad, Haaretz, November 12, 2006: “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush will meet at the White House in Washington on Monday. Their meeting will be a good opportunity for Olmert to announce that he is calling on Syrian President Bashar Assad to begin immediate negotiations for peace with Israel.”

David Makovsky, When Bush Meets Olmert: New Political Contexts in Washington and Jerusalem, PolicyWatch/PeaceWatch, November 9, 2006: “When Bush is in political trouble, he heads to the center. When Olmert is in political trouble, he has tended to lean more toward the right.”

Daniel Levy, Send the Baker Commission to Gaza, Washington Monthly, December 2006: “Democrats will need to be convinced that expanding the Baker-Hamilton Commission mandate to include Israel-Palestine would not only serve America’s national-security interests and benefit our ally, Israel, but also that such a move wouldn’t be a political exercise in self-flagellation.”

Daniel Levy, Steve Clemons, and Yossi Beilin, Why There’s No Chance an Israeli-Arab Peace is Now Possible — and Why That View is Wrong, New America Foundation, November 9, 2006. [Links to audio and video recordings of a panel discussion]

Via pryoung: Steven Erlanger, In New Middle East, Tests for an Old Friendship, The New York Times, November 13, 2006: “Even before the American elections, a certain wariness had crept into the intimate friendship between Israel and the United States.”

Brent Scowcroft, Beyond Lebanon: This Is the Time for a U.S.-Led Comprehensive Settlement, The Washington Post, July 30, 2006: “Now, perhaps more than ever, we have an opportunity to harness that concern and energy to achieve a comprehensive resolution of the entire 58-year-old tragedy.”

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby, London Review of Books, March 10, 2006: “One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides. Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’.”

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