JERUSALEM – Mideast peace, America’s defining issue for decades of dealings with Israel and its Arab neighbors, was just a postscript Monday as Hillary Rodham Clinton made perhaps her final visit to the region as secretary of state.
Three years after President Barack Obama declared the plight of the Palestinians “intolerable,” his administration no longer sees the failing Arab-Israeli peace efforts with the same immediacy. U.S. interests are focused now on Iran and Syria, though the deep differences between Israel and the Palestinians are not ignored.
“Peace among Israel, the Palestinian people and all of Israel’s Arab neighbors is crucial for Israel’s long-term progress and prosperity,” Clinton said following discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s president, foreign minister and defense minister.
Clinton also met Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, but she couldn’t report any progress toward an accord that might secure an independent Palestine and an Israel at peace with its neighbors.
Israel has defied Obama’s call to halt settlement construction in occupied lands, and Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have refused to resume talks, leaving peace hopes in a tense status quo with no breakthrough in sight. Both Israelis and Palestinians are frustrated with one another and with Obama’s peace efforts so far.
Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said Obama’s Mideast policy has been a “disaster.”
“The American standing and credibility have never been worse than now,” she said. “A major power is being constantly humiliated by Israel, and they put up with it and they take it.”
In a further sign of Israel’s prominence in domestic U.S. politics, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is to visit a few days after Clinton. Her visit was seen by many here as a politically motivated attempt to pre-empt the Romney visit.
Years ago, some of the biggest diplomatic gatherings around the world focused on Arab-Israeli peace efforts. These days they concern Iran and its disputed nuclear program. The U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have held three rounds of talks with Iran since April.
Israeli officials believe that Iran could have the ingredients and know-how to build a nuclear bomb in a matter of months. That has raised fears around the world that Israel could strike in the near future.