Mideast peace veterans and handshake diplomacy
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly referred to them as “veterans” of the Middle East peace process.
That description is probably one thing everyone can agree on. The process to bring Israelis and Palestinians to a lasting peace agreement has been going on for decades and every U.S. president hopes he’s the one who will finally achieve what those before him tried and failed.
President Barack Obama is the latest to take up the baton. He’s already won the Nobel Peace Prize, but will he be The One to triumph on Middle East Peace?
“We are under no illusions,” Obama said on Wednesday when he met with leaders ahead of today’s talks. “Passions run deep. Each side has legitimate and enduring interests. Years of mistrust will not disappear overnight.”
That last sentence is another thing that probably everyone can agree on.
But if the Israeli-Palestinian leaders’ handshakes over the years are any kind of indicator, perhaps there is a glimmer of hope.
Seventeen years ago in September 1993, President Bill Clinton practically forced Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to shake hands at the White House while observers held their collective breath wondering will they or won’t they?
No nudges needed this week, the handshakes flowed.
Before Wednesday evening’s White House dinner, my colleague Jeff Mason who was in the East Room observed that when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to his seat from the podium, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in the process of standing up when they had a lingering handshake.
When it came time for Abbas to return from the podium, he and Netanyahu had another brief, cordial handshake. And while they were seated, Netanyahu was observed whispering in Abbas’ ear, showing a smidgeon of rapport between the leaders.
This morning at the State Department, my colleague Jeffrey Heller tells me that both leaders shook hands and engaged in animated conversation for a few moments in what appeared to be a relaxed atmosphere.
Perhaps in addition to breaking bread, some ice was broken at last night’s dinner…
Photo credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn (top) and Jim Young (combination photo of Bill Clinton, Rabin, and Arafat, contrasted with Hillary Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas), Reuters/Jim Young (Netanyahu and Abbas at White House ), Reuters/Jason Reed (Netanyahu and Abbas reach to shake hands in front of Clinton)