"I had 700 days of 'no' in Northern Ireland, and one 'yes'," remarked George Mitchell in May 2010. A year on, and having spent more than 800 days in the Middle East with no sign of a "yes" on the horizon in Ramallah or Tel Aviv, the frustrated former senator announced his resignation as President Obama's peace envoy to the region.
Cue much hand-wringing about the future of the "peace process". But there is nothing new about the Obama administration's failure to get Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table; peace talks have been on hold since 2008. As the mild-mannered Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, a long-time ally of the US, noted in a recent interview: "It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump."
Obama, however, like George W Bush before him, is a distraction. When it comes to the US's Middle East policy, true power and influence lies elsewhere. Pronouncements from the executive branch of the US government attract much of the attention of foreign governments and the world's media; few outside (or, for that matter, inside) the US pay attention to the behaviour of the country's legislature when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.