by Jonathan Schanzer
November 4, 2009
The Associated Press reports that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Morocco on Sunday for meetings with Arab leaders to discuss Middle East peace, but that "her shuttle diplomacy produced no sign of a breakthrough."
The AP article indicates that Israeli settlement activity is the determining factor for Clinton's failures. It quotes Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh as saying, "There can be no excuse for the continuation of settlements, which is really the main obstacle in the way of any credible peace process."
The AP failed to note, however, that many of the Arab leaders that Clinton met with are themselves responsible for the "atmosphere" of "failure" that reportedly lingers in Marrakech. Indeed, many of these leaders – including the Moroccans – recently sent delegations to the Annual Conference for Boycotting Israel, held on October 20 in Damascus, Syria. Only Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, and Oman held out. This is hardly a breeding ground for diplomacy.
The popularity of this year's boycott conference, coupled with the current diplomatic impasse, yields several important observations.
Most obviously, the good offices of Morocco are not at all good. The Kingdom cannot in good faith foster diplomacy between the Palestinians and Israelis while simultaneously pursuing a boycott that would blacklist Israel and Israeli products in the Arab world.
Second, the wide participation of Arab states in this conference demonstrates the failure, to date, of President Barack Obama's Middle East strategy. The President appealed to these countries in his June speech in Cairo, asking them to play a leading role in rekindling peace by making gestures to Israel. They have clearly rejected his request. This is critical because the Palestinians will not even consider diplomacy until most of the Arab world urges them to do so.
Finally, the Palestinians are ostensibly rejecting diplomacy over an issue that should be determined during diplomacy – settlements. Their obstinance can be traced directly to a grave error committed by Obama, who began his presidency seeking unilateral concessions from Israel on this issue – without a negotiated agreement. While the President has since reconsidered this untenable position, the Palestinians have dug in their heels, hoping that the President will again change course. In other words, this is a stalemate the White House could have easily avoided.
Hillary Clinton's failures in Morocco are not hers. They are the result of earlier missteps by the President, and an Arab world that is sending mixed messages about its role in Middle East peace.