JENIN, West Bank - In recent days, some have questioned whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was making a big mistake in appointing so many "special envoys," such as George Mitchell, to handle key trouble spots, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think they are right to question Clinton about this plethora of envoys.
But I don't think the problem is that she has too many; it's that she doesn't have enough. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she may need at least a half-dozen envoys. Actually, this conflict is now broken into so many different pieces it may take a whole State Department of its own to resolve it.
In addition to Mitchell, Hillary may want to enlist Bill and Chelsea to take a crack at solving this one, definitely Jim Baker and Jimmy Carter, too. Why, heck, she might want to even ask some perfect strangers she meets in the halls at Foggy Bottom: "Hey, would you like a free trip to the Middle East?" Sure, it helps to know some history, but a grasp of biology now is even more useful - like how an amoeba reproduces by constantly splitting itself in half.
Where to begin? Palestinians are now divided between the West Bank and Gaza, with a secular Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah in the West Bank and a fundamentalist Hamas government based in Gaza. But Hamas is further divided between a military and political wing, and the political wing is further divided between a Gaza-based leadership and a Damascus-based leadership, with the latter taking orders from both Syria and Iran.
Are you still with me?
Best I can tell, the Palestinians from Gaza are simultaneously negotiating a cease-fire with Israel in Cairo, pursuing war-crimes charges against Israel in Europe, digging new tunnels in the Sinai to smuggle more rockets into Gaza to hit Tel Aviv and trying to raise money for reconstruction from Iran. Meanwhile, the West Bank Palestinian leaders are busy publicly collecting food and blankets to help all those Palestinian civilians brutalized by the Israeli incursion into Gaza, while privately demanding to know from senior Israeli officials why they wimped out and didn't wipe Hamas in Gaza off the face of the Earth - casualties be damned.
Israel, meanwhile, has a government in which the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister each has a different peace plan, war strategy and cease-fire conditions for Gaza, and the foreign minister and defense minister are running against each other in Israel's election on Tuesday. Speaking of that election, a whole new party, Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, which has been accused of having "fascist," viciously anti-Arab leanings, appears headed to make the biggest gains and possibly become the kingmaker of Israel's next government. The other day, the Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, was quoted in the newspaper Haaretz as criticizing Lieberman as a lamb in hawk's clothing, asking: "When has he ever shot anyone?"
How did this conflict get so fragmented? For starters, it's gone on way too long. The West Bank is so chopped up and divided now by roads, checkpoints and fences to separate Israel's crazy settlements from Palestinian villages that a Palestinian could fly from Jerusalem to Paris quicker than he or she could drive from Jenin, here in the northern West Bank, to Hebron in the south.
Another reason is that every idea has been tried and has failed. For the Palestinians, Pan-Arabism, Communism, Islamism have all come and gone, with none having delivered statehood or prosperity. As a result, more and more Palestinians have fallen back on family, clan, town and tribal loyalties. In Israel, Peace Now's two-state solution was blown up with by the crash of the Oslo peace accords, the rising Palestinian birthrate made any plans to annex the West Bank a mortal threat to Israel's Jewish character, and the rockets that followed Israel's withdrawals from both Lebanon and Gaza made a mockery of those who said unilateral pullouts were the solution.
All of this has led to a resurgence of religiosity. According to Haaretz, the following questions were posed by a well-known rabbi in one of the pamphlets distributed by the Israeli army's office of chief rabbi before the latest Gaza fighting: "Is it possible to compare today's Palestinians to the Philistines of the past? And if so, is it possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David? A comparison is possible because the Philistines of the past were not natives and had invaded from a foreign land."
Who in the world would want to try to repair this? I'd rather herd cats, or become John Thain's image adviser, or have a colonoscopy, or become chairman of the "bad bank" that President Obama might create to hold all the toxic mortgages. Surely, any of those would be more fun. If Mitchell is still up for it, well, then God bless him.
Thomas Friedman is a columnist for
The New York Times. Reach him c/o The New York Times, Editorial Department, 229 West 43rd St.,
New York, NY 10036.
© 2009 New York Times News Service