JERUSALEM -- The Obama administration is working hard to correct the missteps it made in the opening phases of its attempt to mediate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The principal challenge now is persuading the Palestinian side to return to the negotiating table. This challenge emerged, ironically, as the direct result of Washington's early errors in its quest for peace. The administration is learning from its mistakes and better understanding the nuances of this complicated conflict.
And yet, its propensity to make counterproductive moves persists. A recent statement by the U.S. negotiator George Mitchell showed just how easy it is to throw new fuel onto this deadly fire. In what might very well have been a casual remark without serious implications, Mitchell sounded like he was issuing a threat to Israel. And if the experience of Obama's first year in office shows one thing, it is that pressure conveyed through the media ends up causing Israelis to mistrust the process and Palestinians to raise their demands.
Throughout the Obama administration, officials are urging Palestinians back to the table. President Barack Obama himself has urged them to start talking without preconditions, as has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he will not speak to Israel unless all settlement construction stops. But although that is his chief precondition, he recently listed a total of eight demands Israel must meet before he will agree to talk.