[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/28/intv.miller.art.jpg caption="Aaron David Miller tells CNN the Middle East peace process is going to be like a thousand days of root canals."]
President Obama is back in Washington today after a west coast tour. He is sitting down with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, trying to move forward with his Middle East peace plan.
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to endorse a two-state solution during his visit to Washington. So is this part of the president's plan or is it dead in the water?
Aaron David Miller is a former Middle East negotiator and the author of "The Much Too Promised Land." He spoke to Rob Marciano on CNN’s “American Morning” Thurs
Rob Marciano: Give us the Palestinian and Israel cliff notes here. A 101 version of where the U.S. stands in their policy with that part of the Middle East.
Aaron David Miller: I think the reality is the Obama administration has decided to make this a top priority. I wasn't sure at first but there’s no question about it now. Governing is about choosing. It’s about trying to decide what’s important and what isn't. And the Obama administration has taken some important steps – appointing George Mitchell, changing their tone, early visits to Washington, the president's speech in Cairo. There’s no question they are going to seriously test the possibility that within the first or maybe second term, the administration can…help the Israeli and Palestinians reach an agreement.
Marciano: Arguably, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't have the power he once had and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may be in a similar situation. What does the president hope to accomplish with this meeting this week?
Miller: Well, he is going to sit down with a very pleasing, but largely powerless Palestinian president, really representing a kind of Palestinian “Humpy Dumpty.” Abbas, who represents Fatah, has the incentive to make peace with the Israelis but not the power. Hamas, on the other hand, has plenty of power but they lack the incentive. And this conundrum, this real problem is the one that the Obama administration is going to confront.
In today's meeting there will be three people in the room. There will be the president and there will be the Palestinian president and there is also going to be Benjamin Netanyahu. He won't be there in body but he'll be there in spirit. Because almost everything turns now, I suspect, on whether the administration can induce the Israelis to do things. And there's a sort of cruel asymmetry here. Very little will be expected from Mahmoud Abbas, because he's not capable of giving much. Much will be expected of the Israelis and you really are going to end up, I suspect, with a test of wills sooner rather than later.
Marciano: If Mahmoud Abbas doesn't have a whole lot of power and is maybe not the best negotiator at this point, other than Israel, are there any other countries over there that may be able to come to the table and help out?
Miller: Well the administration, I think, is trying to triangulate. They realize that getting the Israelis to do anything unilaterally, and certainly getting Mahmoud Abbas to do anything unilaterally, is going to be very, very difficult. So they’ve tried or they’re trying to get the Arab states to offer a sort of down payment on the 2002 initiative. Partial normalization with the Israelis in order to induce the Israelis perhaps to do a settlements freeze and also to strengthen the Palestinians. Look. This process is going to be like a thousand days of root canals. It's going to be excruciatingly painful. The chances of success are very low, but the administration has clearly made this a priority and it's going to be fascinating to watch it unfold in the next several months.
Marciano: The president is expected to go to Cairo pretty soon. Do you think he is going to actually unveil a peace plan there? If so, what do you think the basis of that plan would be?
Miller: It's not going to be a detailed plan. I think what he is going to do is talk about the importance of a two-state solution and then lay out, in a kind of intellectual fashion, but very clearly, as he has done on other issues, what the essence of a two-state solution would be and point to how the contentious issues like Jerusalem, like refugees, like borders, like security, and normalization between Israel and the Arab states, what the shapes of those issues are going to be. A kind of tutorial. Presidents persuade and they educate. And on this one, this is going to be a powerful educational speech on the part of the president.