For true believers, some truths die hard – like the axiom that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the center of the universe. Or, at least, that it is at the center of our region. Reuters, in a report of a speech Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave inWashingtonto the US-Islamic World Forum, wrote the following: “President Barack Obama will lay outUSpolicy toward theMiddle EastandNorth Africain the coming weeks,Clintontold Arab and US policy makers in a speech that placed particular emphasis on Israeli-Palestinian peace.” But will we be the focus – with everything else going on around us? Unlikely. America’s core interests in the region and values have not changed, Clinton said, including its commitment to “promote human rights, resolve longstanding conflicts, counter Iran’s threats, and defeat al- Qaida and its extremist allies.” She added that this included “renewed pursuit of comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.” While Israel and the Palestinians were certainly not the emphasis of this speech, there were some interesting points in those few words having to do with the current diplomatic process. First, the US remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution. That’s a key principle to reiterate, especially in the run-up to the Palestinians’ efforts to get the UN to recognize a state for them in September. The message is that only a negotiated settlement – not one that’s imposed – will work. Second, Clinton restated that there is no substitute for active American leadership. This, perhaps, was a signal meant for the Europeans and the UN, who have pushed for greater involvement in the process by the Quartet, which is made up of the US, EU, Russia and the UN. In recent days, though, there have been a number of reports saying the US has been behind a push by England, France and Germany to get the Quartet to issue a statement saying a future Israeli-Palestinian agreement should be based on the pre-1967 lines, with agreed upon land swaps. According to this way of thinking, the US was engaged in the classic good cop/bad cop routine, with the EU in the bad cop role vis-a-vis Israel, but with the US encouraging it to play that role in order to pressure Jerusalem. One problem with this theory, however, is that the US would have wanted to see the Quartet meet in Berlin on Friday, as expected, rather than working behind the scenes to scuttle it. Indeed, the Quartet meeting – first planned for last month – has been put off yet again. In the hundreds of hours of talks that Netanyahu’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, has had with the White House over the past few months, he probably was trying to convince the Americans to accept certain Israeli initiatives and then present them as their own. No one is saying whether the Americans have adopted any of these ideas, and it is certain that the Palestinians – in their own talks with the US – are playing the same game. But when Obama does give his Middle East and North African speech, and when he does relate in that speech to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what the world might hear is elements of ideas that Netanyahu would have liked to say but couldn’t, because if he had, they would have been summarily dismissed.
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Commentary: Diplomatic intrigue, or intriguing diplomacy