The advent of a new unity government in Israel provides a fresh opportunity to revive the peace process. Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz is on record favoring immediate recognition of a Palestinian state with provisional borders that would give them sixty percent of the West Bank, (to be followed by final status negotiations). However, it is unlikely that talks can be reborn in the near future without the assistance of an American midwife.
If President Obama stays clear of the delivery room until after the election, it promises to be a long night in the waiting room and the end result may well be a stillbirth. However—allow me to milk the metaphor for all it’s worth—if the President were able to exploit the change in the coalition to induce labor, he could get the peace process into stirrups, and help bring these long-beleaguered twins into the world—two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security.
One way to accomplish this would be with a grand gesture. Mr. Obama should go to Jerusalem, meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and leader Mofaz,and deliver a passionate speech before the Knesset. The speech should inspire; it should bring chills to the spine and tears to the eyes. It should be a majesterial speech—more Martin Luther King, Jr. than oratorical Obama—evoking biblical text and realpolitik visions of the fruits of peace (and leaving specific bridging proposals to later). Most importantly, it should end with a headline-grabbing climax—his announcement that he has named a top-flight "Special Presidential Emissary for Israel-Palestinian Peace" who has been ordered to remain in the region to facilitate meetings between leaders on both sides and not to return to the States until an agreement has been signed, ideally within the next six minths, i.e. before Election Day.
My nominee for the position of Special Emissary is Bill Clinton. The former President has already grappled with every clause in past agreements and knows every aspect of the conflict in its most contentious and picayune detail. Though his second term ran out before his Clinton Parameters could be tweaked into final form, the discussions he midwifed in 2000 at the Camp David and Taba summits came close to stilling the fears and satisfying the needs of both sides of the conflict.
Bill Clinton knows the territory, economically, politically, and geopolitically. He knows the topography and geography of Israel/Palestine, literally street by street and wadi by wadi. His grasp of the history and politics of the region beats that of any ten Mid-East experts you can name. He knows all the players. His powers of persuasion are legendary. And, with age and experience, he has acquired new layers of wisdom, patience, creativity, global prestige and international respect.
Clearly, Bill’s the man for the job (and he can always get Hillary’s ear if he needs State Department advice). Just as clearly, this is a propitious moment for the Clinton magic to work its charms on a uniquely receptive audience. Mofaz has said that resuming negotiations was an "iron condition" for his joining the government. Netanyahu can no longer claim to be hobbled on the peace front by coalition politics and resistance from his minority parties. Having Clinton in the picture would take the heat off Mahmoud Abbas, who told Reuters he’s ready to talk if Netanyahu proposes "anything promising or positive." A dramatic resurrection of peace negotiations would spare the Palestinian President from having to fight for non-member status at the U.N.—a messy business—or struggle against increasing Palestinian demands to dissolve the Palestinian Authority.
Meanwhile, Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh called the new coalition "a threat," while another Hamas spokesman reminded the world that the greatest number of Israeli assassinations of Palestinian leaders were carried out under Mofaz’s command. This, of course, will add to Mofaz’s street cred as a military man who can deliver peace, à la Yitzhak Rabin, who famously broke Palestinian arms before he broke bread with Yasir Arafat.
It’s become a tired cliché to warn that the window is fast closing on the possibility of a two-state solution. But if anyone on the planet can open it up and let in some fresh air it’s Citizen Clinton, who undoubtedly would rise to the occasion and welcome the opportunity to forge a legacy of peace as enduring as any of his achievements as president. Were he to fail, the world would blame Mr. Clinton. But were he to succeed, Mr. Obama would get the credit in time for the election.