Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary Clinton had a good discussion today, with a friendly and productive exchange of views on both sides. Secretary Clinton reiterated the United States' unshakable commitment to Israel's security and to peace in the region.
The prime minister and the secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The secretary reiterated that "the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements." Those requirements will be fully taken into account in any future peace agreement.
The discussions between the prime minister and the secretary focused on creating the conditions for the resumption of direct negotiations aimed at producing a two-state solution. Their teams will work closely together in the coming days toward that end.
This kind of statement that appears to say that the US and Israel agreed on some principles about direct negotiations leading to a two state outcome really says almost nothing.
Nonetheless, Israel-Palestine "is" a defining challenge for the Obama administration.
I'm in Abu Dhabi now and have had a number of conversations in less than a day here in which UAE government officials have emphasized that the fastest and most efficacious way to constructively confront Iran's growing power in the region is for the US to pull off a real breakthrough in the Israel/Palestine two state standoff.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is giving this peace process some of her considerable muscle -- but to be blunt, she has done nothing yet that reflects a change in strategy, personnel, inclusion of negotiating participants, or anything from what was underway before her involvement and earlier failures.
General Anthony Zinni once told me that the real weakness of the state department is that it rarely gamed out scenarios and didn't do what the department of defense did in considering a lot of different strategies that consider various key inputs in a war game simulation. Zinni may be on to something.
DoD scenarios allow virtually every kind of option to be considered. A DoD style scenario exercise would consider various strategies to either put Hamas on a track that would lead to inclusive negotiations or would consider through a cost/benefit calculation how to make the isolation of Hamas less beneficial to their obvious growing power and legitimacy. A DoD scenario would consider the economic, strategic and political factors in trying to either undermine Netanyahu and his government, move closer to it, or provide a mixed approach.
Hillary Clinton would be smart to assemble a group of people with whom she does not agree on Israel/Palestine and engage in some real simulation discussions of alternative tracks to get Israel and Palestine to "yes" on a two-state arrangement. The room should include the folks who have been part of the infrastructure of the past but should also include those who have strong disagreements with the current policy -- and various scenarios should be played out with the Secretary listening and learning.
My sense is that this has not yet happened and needs to. When I heard recently that Andrew Shapiro's policy guidance to Hillary Clinton on Israel/Palestine matters had not changed from what he gave her in the US Senate to what he feeds her today at the state department, it became clear to me that the cocoon Secretary Clinton is on Israel/Palestine issues needs some new inputs.