Peace-Process Damage Control

The scramble is on. This weekend, Israel’s freeze on settlement construction expired, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not extend the moratorium. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton feverishly tried to avoid this situation Friday, holding, in the words of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman,intense” talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials. She “urged Israel to extend the moratorium” and to tried to convince the Palestinians that they shouldn’t “walk out of the talks” should the freeze be allowed to expire.

Diplomats worked even harder today to control the fallout after this weekend’s happenings, trying to make sure the Palestinians don’t walk out on the talks. But Washington seems to be taking a bit of a backseat. Tony Blair, the Quartet’s representative, was running around Jerusalem; French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Both Abbas and Netanyahu accepted Sarkozy’s invitation to attend a meeting in Paris next month. But U.S. special envoy George Mitchell isn’t going to be completely left out. His schedule is still in flux, but Mitchell is leaving for the region tonight and will meet with both Israeli and Palestinian officials later in the week.

Elsewhere in the world, General David Petraeus said today that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been contacted by upper-level Taliban leaders that want to start a reconciliation process. The Taliban has in fact been trying to make contact with various high-level Afghan officials for a while now, but it’s a step for Petraeus to show he supports the process. He said that the acknowledgement is part of the U.S. recognition that “you are not going to kill or capture your way out of an industrial-strength insurgency.” Reconciliation efforts will likely proceed after this weekend, when President Karzai appoints his High Peace Council for talks.

And the New York Times published a correction to its Bob Woodward piece at the end of last week that can prett much speak for itself: “While Mr. Biden is indeed quoted as calling Mr. Holbrooke “the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met,” he also is quoted saying that Mr. Holbrooke “may be the right guy for the job.”