Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Friday, May 13, 2011

George Mitchell--the canary in the mineshaft

George Mitchell has given up on Middle East peace and returned to a well-deserved retirement. He was coaxed out of retirement in 1994, after a career in the Senate, by President Clinton to chair a board looking at economic ideas for Northern Ireland. He spent the next five years working on the problems of Northern Ireland as the head of a commission investigating the problem of decommissioning, then as a mediator chairing the political talks and finally in the fall of 1999 heading a review of the working of the Good Friday Agreement that came up with a temporary fix to the decommissioning problem. Clinton again called on him in late 2000 to head an investigation into the causes of the outbreak of the Al-Aksa Intifada at the start of October. President Obama, to much acclaim by Jewish liberal groups, brought him out of retirement during his transition to advise on his Middle East policy. He ended up as Obama's Middle East envoy, the position once held by Dennis Ross in the Clinton administration.

His pending retirement has been rumored for about eight months since the renewal of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was dead on arrival. Neither side was particularly interested in incurring the political costs of peace--concessions that would endanger its domestic standing. Netanyahu refused outrageous bribes to renew a settlement freeze and Mahmoud Abbas used this as an excuse to refuse to enter into talks.

Obama was too engaged with domestic problems dealing with the economy and with managing two--now three--foreign wars to put his own political future on the line. Why should he risk his presidency when Abbas was not prepared to risk his or Netanyahu his premiership?  The next big problem for Obama will be finding someone of sufficient stature to take on this thankless task for the rest of his first term. Dennis Ross is unacceptable to the liberals even if he wanted the job. Most of those qualified to take on the job are smart enough not to want it.

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