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Obama Gets Peace Process Back to 2007 (Not Even)

7:08 PM, Sep 19, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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In 2007, the Bush administration held a conference in Annapolis that brought together the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. This was the first time all sides were able to agree on a two state solution as the path toward a lasting peace deal between Israel and Palestinians. Nearly two years later, Obama has managed to get the two parties back into the same room, but only after dropping his own preconditions for the talks -- a complete Israeli freeze on all settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The White House announces:

On Tuesday, September 22, President Obama will host a trilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The trilateral meeting will be immediately preceded by bilateral meetings between President Obama and the two leaders. These meetings will continue the efforts of President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Special Envoy George Mitchell to lay the groundwork for the relaunch of negotiations, and to create a positive context for those negotiations so that they can succeed.

"It is another sign of the President's deep commitment to comprehensive peace that he wants to personally engage at this juncture, as we continue our efforts to encourage all sides to take responsibility for peace and to create a positive context for the resumption of negotiations," said Special Envoy Mitchell.

Obama could have put the same meeting together six months ago -- without squandering his credibility with the Israeli public -- if he'd simply called for unconditional talks between the two sides. Obama has not set preconditions for talks with any of the rogue states he is now courting, but for Israel, there was a demand that all settlement construction cease, indefinitely, before the peace process could move forward. The Palestinians adopted this as their own precondition for talks, further complicating matters (in fairness, as Hillary Clinton concedes in her interview with the Washington Post, her public call for a freeze may have unintentionally locked the administration into a policy to which it was not fully committed).

In the event, construction will continue on some 2,500 units and Netanyahu has authorized new construction on some 450 units. The Israelis have dismissed outright demands for a freeze in East Jerusalem and are negotiating the terms of a temporary freeze in the West Bank on the condition that any freeze come with a written guarantee from the Obama administration that if peace talks break down, the freeze will come to an end.

Obama has managed to get the two parties to the table to talk about having talks. Good for him, but this is a far less impressive achievement than the Annapolis conference, which was widely mocked on the left as an unserious attempt at peace and indicative of Bush's lack of engagement with the issue. At this pace, Obama may need a third term just to get this process back to where Bill Clinton had it in 1993.