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As Mideast Peace Talks Start, D.C. Think Tanks Overfloweth With Analysis

It’s been 20 months since Israelis and Palestinians sat down across a table with each other, and that has meant quiet times for the dozens of Middle East analysts and advocates in Washington’s think tank world. But the Wednesday-Thursday meetings at the White House and State Department have prompted a flurry of briefings and background sessions as these analysts position themselves for appearances on newspaper op-ed pages, broadcast and cable interviews and the blogosphere.

The Mideast watchers, many of whom have appeared on the five incarnations of the NewsHour over the past 35 years, cover a range of perspectives. Many have served in government and participated in the numerous conferences and meetings that come under the umbrella of the Mideast peace process that has been going on since the end of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. A few are academics or former journalists. Their institutions support a range of views from the Israeli left and pro-Likud on the Israeli right to centrist American to varying degrees of Arab and Palestinian nationalism.

And that chasm of differing views and between optimists and pessimists is wide indeed.

For instance, Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation, and a former Israeli negotiator, wrote:

“Much of the pessimism surrounding this week’s peace summitry derives from the rather stunning lack of originality in the approach being pursued by President Obama and his team. As currently structured, this peace process really does resemble the movie we have seen before — the one with the unhappy ending”

Robert Danin, an American diplomat who worked with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Quartet of the U.S., United Nations, Russia and the European Union, made this observation:

“The difficulty of getting them to the table, despite nearly two decades of negotiations, illustrates the lack of enthusiasm with which Palestinians and Israelis approach such talks. Clearly the administration and the international Quartet….feel more urgency than the parties themselves.”

On the Aug. 20 NewsHour, an Israeli and Palestinian analyst took a more upbeat view and asserted the two sides had their reasons for talking now.

Gaith al-Omari of the American Task Force on Palestine said several deadlines were approaching in September, among them the U.N. General Assembly and an Israeli moratorium on new settlement construction.

“…we need to show progress before these events, so we can maintain a degree of stability in the region and in the political process there,” al-Omari said.

David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy agreed, saying that President Obama was stirred to action during his July 6 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said the president pushed the leaders of Arab nations to get behind Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and support his return to the negotiating table.

The Obama administration put a one-year deadline on the direct talks.

That may not guarantee peace, but it does assure that Washington’s diverse collection of Middle East analysts will have plenty to write and talk about in the coming weeks and months.

We have been in touch with many of these folks and organizations, and they with us, as the NewsHour gears up for the Obama administration’s first big round of Mideast peace talks. Who are we calling for insights and information? Here’s a small sampling:

On Wednesday’s NewsHour, we’ll assess the latest effort to jump start the talks with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Stephen Hadley, President George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser. Be sure to tune in.

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