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As peace talks begin, no one at the table is strong enough, or lucky enough, to make it happen.
BOSTON — On day one in the White House, President Barack Obama’s first phone calls were to the four leaders of the Middle East who are now gathered in Washington for peace talks.
On day two, Obama’s first announcement was that his special envoy for the Middle East would be George Mitchell, the man who has worked for 20 months to pull these talks together.
From the very beginning, Obama has sought to telegraph to the world, to the region and to America that he is genuinely intent on solving the most intractable issue of the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And so today, when he brings together the Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the first direct peace talks in nearly two years, he will claim he’s sticking to a set plan he’s had from the beginning.
But to anyone who has spent time in the Middle East it is tragically obvious that this kind of seriousness of purpose and micro-management of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is not how you get it done. In fact, this kind of full-court press, particularly one with a time frame imposed upon it, can backfire in terrible ways.
Just ask former President Bill Clinton, who spent years focusing on bringing the two sides together only to see his determined efforts collapse into more violence and bloodshed.
The way an American president successfully brokers a Middle East peace deal is to have a keen sense of timing and to simply be lucky enough to work with leaders who are sufficiently bold and confident to understand what a peace agreement would mean for their country.
And right now, Obama is just not that lucky.
Neither the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have the support from their respective constituencies that they would need to provide the courage to make a lasting deal.
Netanyahu’s coalition in the Israeli parliament is tenuously held together with duct tape and a grouping of far right parties that would rather topple his government than see land returned to the Palestinians.
And Abbas’ authority is strung together with baling wire between the West Bank, which he barely controls, and Gaza, where he has virtually no authority as Hamas continues to assert its firm grip on power.
Hamas’ assertion of that power and their intent to derail any efforts toward peace was written in blood Tuesday when they claimed credit for the attack that killed four Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
The last American president lucky enough to have leaders with the requisite confidence and courage to bring about peace was Jimmy Carter.
Carter was able to rely on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Both Sadat and Begin brought strong leadership of their political constituencies to the bargaining table and both men had come to understand that a peace agreement would provide a golden opportunity for their respective states.
Sadat was, of course, assassinated for his courage to sign the 1978 Camp David Accords with Israel. But the agreement has held to this day.