Interviewee: Aaron David Miller, Public Policy Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, Council on Foreign Relations
Aaron David Miller, who for more than ten years was a top U.S. Middle East negotiator, says naming George J. Mitchell as the new special envoy for Arab-Israeli issues shows the Obama administration at this early stage is substituting " process for substance." He says the administration has "no intention of making major changes in America's approach to the Arab-Israeli issue, because right now, the prospects of any sort of conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians are slim to none."
In one of her first acts as the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton named a special envoy for Arab-Israeli affairs, George J. Mitchell, who was the chief peacemaker on Northern Ireland and briefly worked on the Middle East at the end of President Bill Clinton's and the start of President George W. Bush's terms. In the latter role, his commission on bringing an end to the so-called Second Intifada produced eventually the so-called Road Map, which has never really gone anywhere. What can he accomplish off the bat?
I think what's possible is to create what I call "station identification"--let the world know that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are serious about achieving Arab-Israeli peace, and they are going to devote a good part of the administration's attention on foreign policy dealing with this issue. Number two, it's clear to me that they've substituted at this stage process for substance. They have no intention of making major changes in America's approach to the Arab-Israeli issue, because right now, the prospects of any sort of conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians are slim to none.
Gaza has so many moving parts--antismuggling, opening the crossing points, dealing with securing a longer-term arrangement between Israel and Hamas on the security side, the prisoner issue, which is now higher priority for the Israelis than ever before, and of course, the tricky issue of reconstructing Gaza and providing enough humanitarian relief. All of this is going to prove a very contentious issue for the new administration. These things are going to absorb most of Mitchell's time and become the focal point of the Obama administration's efforts. And the truth is, because you are on the eve of a new government in Israel--the Knesset elections take place on February 10--there probably will be no visit from the new Israeli prime minister, whoever he or she is, to Washington, which is customary and traditional, until April.
How can you really deal with Gaza without having some contact with Hamas?
You can deal with it but not very effectively, and it's safe to assume that there will be no change--none, absolutely none--in the administration's approach to Hamas.
Continue reading the interview here.