News & Media Articles

Message from the Executive Director January 27, 2009

27 January 2009 By New Israel Fund

Message from Larry Garber, NIF Executive Director

This week, I led the Torah discussion at my local Havurah.   As newly-confirmed Secretary of State Clinton had announced that we are now entering the “age of diplomacy,” I thought it appropriate to examine the role that Moshe played as God’s emissary to Pharoah in seeking freedom for the children of Israel.  And I posed the question whether Moshe’s approach as a “diplomat” offer any suggestions for George Mitchell, the recently appointed Middle East Special Envoy.

A diplomat can play several roles.    She can serve as a transmitter of messages between the principals of different governments, presenting the talking points of her principal and reporting the responses of the adversary.  She can act as a fact-finder, using her on-the-ground presence to offer insights into a foreign society that would otherwise not be available to policymakers.  She also can function as a mediator or negotiator, solving armed conflicts or achieving agreement on the mundane matters that make our world livable.  And, often a diplomat must play all three roles simultaneously.

For the most part, Moshe, at least in this week’s portion, is a prototype for the first model.  He faithfully presents God’s requests, admonitions and threats to Pharoah, occasionally adding a clarifying condition.  Undoubtedly, he was frustrated by his lack of success, particularly when God claimed responsibility for hardening Pharoah’s heart.   Yet, if we look for the qualities that Moshe brought to the task, we would identify humility and perseverance, clearly two attributes Senator Mitchell will desperately need if he is to achieve success. 

In my remarks, I also referenced the excellent monograph authored in 2008 by Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky entitled, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, which should serve as a guide for Mitchell and others involved in promoting peace in the region.  Specifically, I quoted Lesson 9, which states: “A successful envoy needs the strong and unambiguous support of the White House, credibility with all parties, and a broad mandate. Envoys should not substitute for meaningful diplomacy. Better a policy without an envoy than an envoy without a policy.” 

The immediate dispatch of Mitchell to Israel and neighboring countries, while serving as an orientation for him and an opportunity for him to listen to the different leaders, is also meant to convey the message that, while the US-Israeli alliance is strong, the Obama Administration expects progress on several fronts, regardless of who is the new Israeli Prime Minister or what coalition of parties forms the next government.  In undertaking this mission two weeks before the Israeli elections, Mitchell must walk the fine line of firmly communicating US policy while not appearing to interfere in Israeli electoral politics.  

The Mitchell appointment and visit notwithstanding, the Israeli public will have a determining role in how the next act in this excruciating drama unfolds.  Israeli citizens themselves will provide the most tangible evidence of the direction that the public wishes a new government to take in peace negotiations with Palestinians, Syrians and other interested parties.  Indeed, regardless of the many internal issues that actually influence the Israeli electorate, for most of the world the election will be interpreted as either providing an opening for an American-led peace offensive or the advent of a new period of haggling and foot-dragging. 

As we watch Israeli political developments attentively, let us hope that the Obama commitment to address both security and humanitarian considerations in the aftermath of the Gaza conflict and to place resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict near the top of the diplomatic agenda is not rejected outright or treated with disdain by a public that has for so long yearned for peace.