OSLO, Norway -- President Barack Obama's effort to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians has taken an unexpectedly dangerous turn. Obama campaigned on a promise to start working for peace in the Middle East from the earliest days of his presidency. He kept his word, but he unwittingly unleashed a new round of diplomacy that is unfolding on the public airwaves, breaking with one of the most fundamental and indispensable tenets of diplomacy. Instead of allowing the parties to quietly negotiate their most politically sensitive differences, Obama has set the tone for grand speeches made before large audiences. This is a formula for failure -- or worse.
The original Obama plan did not call for veering sharply away from the traditional tack of discreet negotiations, but the process now threatens to spin out of his control. Obama chose George Mitchell, the former senator and successful negotiator of the Irish peace accords, to spearhead America's push for peace. Mitchell started traveling in the region, meeting with political leaders and speaking to the press in carefully measured words. But then the volume gradually started rising.
First, the Obama administration began exerting public pressure on the Israeli government to take a stand in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state and to put a halt to all construction in the West Bank. Then he gave his speech addressing the Muslim world from Cairo, inspiring other leaders to unwisely follow in his footsteps.