Who speaks for the Palestinians?
Diplomacy took a backseat to domestic affairs Tuesday as President Barack Obama made his first address to a joint session of
Still, the president’s brief foray into the topic shows he’s more engaged in reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement than putting one side or the other in its place. It might work, but it will take a long time if it does.
In his speech, Obama said, “We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand. To seek progress towards a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort.”
That envoy is George Mitchell, who just left for another visit to the region. Mitchell will also join Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a March 2 summit in Egypt to raise money for postwar Gaza. Word is that the United States will dedicate $900 million to rebuilding.
Well and good. Unlike the last president, who allowed most of his presidency to lapse before he fully engaged in Middle East peacemaking, Obama is hitting the ground running, pledging not only effort, but tangible assistance.
But rebuilding Gaza is only part of the solution. A bigger part is who speaks for the Gazans? Is it Hamas or Fatah? And can that spokesman, whoever it is, guarantee that all attacks on Israel will stop even if both sides agree to a truce?
Will Islamic Jihad listen to Hamas? Will Hamas listen to Fatah? Can Fatah work with either Hamas or Islamic Jihad? Up to now, the one answer to all these questions has been no.
We’re all for negotiating with our enemies; that’s the only way to achieve piece short of a surrender. But one first needs to know who’s empowered to make a deal, and can that powerbroker actually deliver.
That’s always been the chief problem in the region, and it’s one that Obama, his good intentions notwithstanding, has yet to address.