By now, we have all had a chance to review the presidential candidates’ positions on foreign affairs, as expressed during Friday night’s debate.
(For many of us who could not watch it at that time, newspaper coverage had to substitute for a chance to watch the candidates’ body language and get a sense of their fluency in the subject. But the thoughtlessness of the debate planners in scheduling it for that time is a different editorial.)
Unless newspapers missed it, what appeared to be absent from the debate was a constructive interchange – any interchange – about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The issue has not gone away – and will not go away – and it is certain that the next U.S. president will have to deal with it in one way or another.
Last Friday, foreign minister-level representatives of the Quartet, the group made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations, met in New York at the end of the opening week of the General Assembly to call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan by the end of 2008.
It is unlikely that this deadline will be met, making the issue a challenge for our next president. What will he do? Are the candidates even thinking about this? Of course, it may be that the moderator simply forgot, or chose not, to ask the question, but given the importance of the issue, one would have hoped that one or both of the candidates would have addressed this.
Israel has made clear that it is committed to a two-state solution and it continues to negotiate with the Palestinian president. According to Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, who spoke at last week’s meeting of the Quartet, Israel is prepared to make “painful concessions,” given the proper conditions.
Those conditions remain unmet. While Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama made some mention of the fact that a nuclear Iran poses a danger to Israel, they did not make mention of other, more immediate threats to Israel’s existence, such as Hamas violence or the continued buildup of Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. And the only reference to Syria by the McCain camp came last week when his advisors indicated that they frown on Israeli-Syrian negotiations.
Debates provide a wonderful opportunity for would-be leaders to speak out on issues of concern. Middle East peace is an important issue. Let us hope that it is addressed next time.