The Obama administration is close to reaching a new agreement with Israel that would freeze Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank for a non-renewable three months. Once the negotiations resume, and 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. Realizing the need to change the dynamic of the negotiations, it appears that the State Department, with the approval of the president, is considering replacing Mr. Mitchell with someone else who can anticipate pitfalls and prevent the embarrassment of the administration in the future, one who brings new focus, creativity and momentum to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, especially at this pivotal juncture.
Knowing how difficult and intractable the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can be, a new envoy is needed who knows not only the intricacies of all issues but one who has a clear understanding of the psychological underpinnings of the parties to the conflict 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 thrust of the message, and the context in which it is conveyed, bears tremendous importance on the outcome. For this reason, and many others, I believe that the former Congressman from Florida, Robert Wexler, not only fits the coin but possesses the qualities that could make a difference. To begin with, Mr. Wexler enjoys the confidence of President Obama as the two worked very closely throughout Obama's political campaign for the Presidency. Moreover, Mr. Wexler and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greatly respect each other and appreciate the strength that each enjoys. Together, they could form a formidable team, particularly because Mr. Wexler believes in her abilities and appreciates the importance of what she brings to the table and is the importance of her positive standing in the eyes of both Israelis and Palestinians to move the peace process forward.
Contrary to George Mitchell and Dennis Ross who are now tainted, predictable unsuccessful, Mr. Wexler could bring new dynamism to the negotiations. He is creative, forthright and would not fall for the old political narratives that have stifled the negotiations in the past-for example: how to deal with Israel's real national security concerns or how to mitigate the Palestinians' position on the sticky question of the right of return. His outspokenness and candor will serve his mission specifically because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been over-shadowed by misperception and self-righteousness. Mr. Wexler will be able to sort out between the real and the misconceived, and disabuse both sides of the notion that the other side does not want 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, Secretary Clinton, Wexler stands a much better chance of achieving what has eluded his predecessors.
Mr. Wexler would most likely welcome the opportunity not only because he wants to serve his president but also because he believes that an Arab-Israeli peace is in the best interest of both the United States and Israel-and that the time is now. There is deep mutual trust between President Obama and Mr. Wexler and although Mr. Wexler would oblige the President and gladly assume any mission he is assigned to, the former Congressman has a special affinity to Israel and compassion for the Palestinians and he would leave no stone unturned to achieve peace that ensures Israel's national security and dignity and independence for the Palestinians.
Unlike George Mitchell, Mr. Wexler is far more in tune to work with and garner the backing of the American Jewish community in support of peace with security for Israel. For obvious reasons, the American Jewish community generally supports the policies of the Israeli government and refrains from publically criticizing Israel when they disagree, preferring to iron out their differences quietly. As a leader who fully appreciates the importance of this relationship, he will be able to utilize his in-depth knowledge of all sides-American Jews, Congress and Israel-to engender a more cohesive understanding and 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 that have not displayed over the years political savvy and knowledge of the issues, while enjoying the trust of all concerns.
There is no question that the road to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is treacherous, incongruous, and full of uncertainties. The potential for failure still looms high and that is why it will take a person like Mr. Wexler with the tenacity and perseverance to overcome the mountains of problems that he would face. Mr. Wexler is ready to take this challenge because he will not assume such a mission for self-gratification, rather because he has the skills, of which he is modest, to muster all the elements and give peace a real chance.
Please note that a version of this article was published in the Jerusalem Post on 11/26/10.