Former Peace Negotiator: President Obama ‘Short on Strategy’ on Middle East

Sep 19, 2011 6:46pm

Palestine made a bid for full membership status at the United Nations on Monday, setting off — intentionally or not — a new set of problems for the White House.

Palestinians have “lost a good deal of respect and are deeply disappointed in the President, even though he certainly is not to blame for the current impasse,” Aaron David Miller, former Middle East peace negotiator for then-President Bill Clinton, said on ABC’s ‘Top Line’ today.

Miller, now a fellow with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Palestinians want a paradigm shift. The regular diplomatic channels are simply not cutting it. And while the decision to make such a bold move is understandable, said Miller, it is unwise.

“Diplomacy is stuck, there’s no question about that,” said Miller. “So they’ve chosen to play to some degree a big game of chicken with the international community and with the United States to try to create some measure of leverage in an area where they do have some influence.”

The U.S. says it will veto Palestine’s request for full membership. Ahead of the vote in New York Tuesday evening, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she and others are “engaged in extremely intensive ongoing diplomacy,” and cautioned that it is still early. But Miller predicted Palestinians will not push the issue to a confrontation with Americans at the United Nations. Despite their frustration with the current situation.

The bid for full member status — regardless of whether or not it escalates to a U.N. showdown — is symptomatic of a bigger problem, said Miller.

The issue is “the impossibility right now – and I choose my words very carefully here – of a conflict-ending agreement between this Israeli government and this Palestinian authority on the core issues: Jerusalem, border security and refugees,” said Miller.

Neither Israelis, Palestinians nor mediators will be able to bridge those three gaps, he said.

“We’re all going to be left with a day-after problem which is going to continue to drag on. That I think is the sad strategic problem here.”

Miller emphasized that Obama is not responsible for these latest problems between Israel and Palestine.

“He is not to be blamed for the current impasse, because he does not have it within his power and capacity to force or even cajole the Israelis and the Palestinians to do something that right now they do not want to do,” said Miller.

But, Miller added, Obama has leaned on rhetoric a little too much, noting the president has “been very long on intention and commitment, and very short on strategy and capacity to produce.”

In all fairness, as Miller acknowledged, the president has been preoccupied with domestic woes, such as the U.S. economy and high unemployment rates.

“The last thing he needs is a high risk effort to embroil himself in a fight with the Israelis, or worse, try to save this whole endeavor by creating a prescription for negotiations which then fail,” said Miller.

For Obama, foreign policy may just be another anvil he carries into 2012.

“The reality is for this president, the next year, foreign policy will either be a drag, a negative, or a wash.” said Miller. “It is not going to help him.”

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