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(photo credit: Courtesy )
The Obama administration is close to reaching a new agreement with Israel that would freeze settlement construction in the West Bank for a further, nonrenewable, three months. Once negotiations resume, regardless of the outcome, it will be necessary for the administration to replace Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who led the negotiations for the past two years to no avail. It appears that the State Department, with the approval of the president, is considering replacing Mitchell with someone who can anticipate pitfalls and prevent embarrassment to the administration, one who brings new focus, creativity and momentum to the negotiations at this pivotal juncture.
Considering how difficult and intractable these negotiations can be, an envoy is needed who knows not only the intricacies of all the issues, but who has a clear understanding of the psychological underpinnings of the parties, and who is respected by both sides. The personality, background and sensitivity of the messenger, and the manner in which he or she conveys the message, like the context in which it is conveyed, will have an enormous influence on the outcome. For this reason, and many others, I believe the former congressman from Florida, Robert Wexler, fits the bill.
TO BEGIN with, Wexler enjoys the confidence of President Barack Obama, as the two worked closely throughout Obama’s campaign for the presidency. Moreover, Wexler and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton respect each other and appreciate the strength that each enjoys. Together, they could form a formidable team, particularly because Wexler appreciates the importance of what Clinton brings to the table and the importance of her positive standing in the eyes of both Israelis and Palestinians, contrary to George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, who are now tainted.
Wexler could bring new dynamism to the negotiations. He is creative, forthright and would not fall for the old political narratives that have stifled negotiations in the past – for example: how to deal with Israel’s real security concerns, or how to mitigate the Palestinians’ position on the right of return. His outspokenness and candor will serve his mission specifically because the conflict has been overshadowed by misperception and selfrighteousness. Wexler will be able to sort out the real and the misconceived, and disabuse both sides of the notion that the other side does not want to or cannot deliver peace. If he is given a clear mandate to advance ideas of his own, and with the support of and regular input by Clinton, Wexler stands a much better chance of achieving what has eluded his predecessors.
Wexler would likely welcome the opportunity not only because he wants to serve his president, but also because he believes that peace is in the best interest of both the US and Israel, and that the time is now.
There is deep mutual trust between Obama and Wexler, and although Wexler
would oblige the president and gladly assume any mission he is
assigned, he has a special affinity for Israel and compassion for the
Palestinians, and would leave no stone unturned to achieve peace that
ensures Israel’s security and dignity and independence for the
Unlike Mitchell, Wexler is far more in tune with the American Jewish
community. For obvious reasons, American Jews generally support the
policies of the Israeli government, and refrain from publicly
criticizing Israel, preferring to iron out their differences quietly. As
a leader who fully appreciates the importance of this relationship,
Wexler will be able to use his in-depth knowledge of all sides –
American Jews, Congress and Israel – to engender a cohesive approach to
which they can comfortably subscribe.
Certainly there are other individuals who might fill this important
position. The problem here is that there is no time for experimenting
with others who already enjoy the trust of all concerned.
There is no question that the road to peace is treacherous, incongruous and full of uncertainties.
The potential for failure still looms high, and that is why it will take
a person like Wexler, with the tenacity and perseverance to move
mountains. He is ready to take this challenge because he will not assume
such a mission for self-gratification, rather because he has the skills
to muster all the elements and give peace a real chance.
The writer is professor of
international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He
teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.