Can Hillary Broker Peace In The Middle East?

Clinton and Netanyahu, courtesy of The Boston Globe

As we enter the second week of the latest round of violence between Gaza and Israel, the world watches with growing alarm as the number of dead grows to 133, including, so far, 21 children. In this ancient battle with positions and passions as fierce and intractable as any in history, the two sides have ebbed and flowed towards peace many times over the years but, for a host of reasons that both change and remain painfully the same, fragile compromises reached, never, ultimately, hold. But still, the brokers involved, whether Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, or the various leaders of the Middle East who have reached across in a handshake, relied on wisdom and objectivity to find middle ground.

Now it’s Hillary Clinton’s turn. In what some describe as a “swan song” of her concluding tenure as Secretary of State, hope is high that with her extensive international experience and the deep respect accorded her by world leaders, she will inspire less a swan song than a “phoenix” of peace to rise out of the ashes of current hostilities.

On Tuesday morning, Clinton was dispatched from Cambodia where she was accompanying President Obama on his historic trip through Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia; she arrived in Israel to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu to begin this latest attempt at compromise. She is scheduled to meet next with leaders of the Palestinian Authority at the West Bank, then on to Cairo, where she will meet with Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. From the Boston Globe:

‘‘In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region,’’ she said.

Clinton expressed sorrow for the heavy loss of life on both sides, but called for the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel to end and stressed that the American commitment to Israel’s security is ‘‘rock solid.’’

‘‘The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike,’’ she said.

The hope was that a ceasefire would be agreed upon before the end of the day, particularly after Obama spoke to Morsi with the firm warning that “he must get the violence in Gaza under control.” Accoding to

While a White House reading of Monday’s call said Obama and Morsi “discussed ways to de-escalate the situation in Gaza,” Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said he’d been told an earlier call Friday between the two leaders had been “very tense.”

While its new leaders’ sympathies lie with the Palestinians — Morsi recalled his ambassador to Israel last week and condemned Israel’s “wanton aggression” — the government knows it’s dependent on U.S. and international aid.

The main incentive for Morsi to try to stop the violence “is the readiness of the U.S. to be supportive and responsive to helping Egypt economically, provided Egypt plays by a certain set of ground rules, one of which is that it preserves the peace treaty with Israel,” Ross said Monday in a teleconference with reporters after returning from Israel. “And if it’s going to sit aside and allow Hamas to destroy that, obviously it’s not playing by [that] set of ground rules.”

Though sensitive and unremittingly complicated, Clinton’s assignment is clear: gather with the parties involved and broker a cease-fire. According to Richard Engel, speaking to Rachel Maddow at MSNBC, that did not happen today, as hoped for, because of differences in the conditions being put forth by the opposing sides:

Hamas’s position is that there should be an immediate ceasefire, but that must coincide with an end to the siege of Gaza, both in and out; a lifting of the Israeli blockade, making it possible to import and export freely, as well as allow travel and transport of its citizens without the restrictions of “the siege.”

Israel doesn’t want to do that; they need and want to continue to restrict the flow of product into Gaza to prevent the possible transportation of weapons. But, according to Engel, the first demand is for Hamas to stop firing rockets; “then they’ll talk to Hamas about the rest of these things.”

The best hopes and expectations for Clinton: that she can convince Egytians to convince Hamas; if she cannot, she will not succeed, which will lead to a possible ground war. Engle states that Israel doesn’t want that war; Hamas “wouldn’t mind” because it “would bring much needed attention” to their plight.

It is clear by the chatter on social media and elsewhere that there is a growing public frustration with the entrenched arguments that accompany every debate related to the hostilities between Israel and Palestine. While American diplomacy and political position remains staunchly pro-Israel, the view of the average person, particularly in the hyper-saturated media world of the 21st century, is being impacted by views of a fierce and powerful Israeli military, which well outweighs any military presence of Hamas, pounding the civilian neighborhoods of Gaza at the expense of the lives of the elderly, families and particularly, children (The Terror For Gaza’s Children). There is an expressed sentiment by many that “unconditional” support of Israel does not remove a sense of conscience about what is also happening in Palestine (Attacks On Gaza: What Israel Doesn’t Want You To Know); does not negate the history of the “struggle” from its onset, and cannot disabuse us, as fair-minded, compassionate citizens of the world, from including the concerns of both sides in any compromise toward peace.

Hillary Clinton agrees. According to The New York Times:

Mrs. Clinton spoke of the need for “a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.” It was unclear whether she was starting a complex task of shuttle diplomacy or whether she expected to achieve a pause in the hostilities and then head home. […]

American officials said Washington was betting on the pragmatism of Egypt’s new president, Mr. Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement with which Hamas is affiliated.

At this point it remains to be seen if applying pressure to Egypt will bring the desired results but as of now, Clinton is moving toward that goal. The world awaits her hoped-for success, results that will not only bring a peace the people of both Gaza and Israel – the world – long for, but will cement Clinton’s legacy as a figure of historical importance. Both results will be internationally welcomed.

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