Posted on February 06, 2009 in Washington Watch

What is most striking about Senator George Mitchell, recently appointed Special Middle East Envoy, is his thoughtfulness and sense of balance. He approaches problems without preconceived notions and with a keen eye fixed on resolving differences and finding workable solutions.

An article “Irish Lessons for Peace” (co-authored by Mitchell and Richard Haass), which appeared in the International Herald Tribune in 2007, provides some useful insights into Mitchell’s approach to negotiations.

Among the lessons he learned from his involvement in the Irish talks are:

• “…making sure that people realize that violence will not succeed is not enough. They must also come to believe that a true path exists, one that will allow them to realize enough of their agenda to persuade their followers to turn away from violence.”
• “Negotiations are essential. Peace never just happens; it is made, issue by issue, point by point. In order to get negotiations launched, preconditions ought to be kept to an absolute minimum. …Front-loading a negotiation with demanding conditions all but assures that negotiations will not get underway, much less succeed.”
• Parties should be allowed to hold onto their dreams…but agree to pursue them exclusively through peaceful and democratic means. … Including in the political process those previously associated with violent groups can actually help. Sometimes it’s hard to stop a war if you don’t talk to those who are involved in it. …Better they become participants than act as spoilers.”

Mitchell’s patience, commitment to a balanced approach and desire to remain open to hearing the concerns of all sides, served him well in Ireland. What was also an essential factor in his success there, was the fact that he had the full support of then-U.S. President Bill Clinton. When the Oslo process unraveled in violence in 2000, Mitchell was asked to examine the causes behind the violence, and make recommendations to restore the peace process. Though his mission was a limited one, his 2001 “Report on the Uprising” displayed the same balance and thoughtful approach to problem-solving. Because it was not fully embraced by then-U.S. President George Bush, this Mitchell effort was not successful.

In the years following this initial foray into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mitchell has had ample opportunity to address Middle East concerns, providing additional insight into his approach to mediating conflict.

Need to End Violence and Create Confidence
“…Well, the first step must be and end to violence. I don’t think there can be serious and sustained negotiations during a high level of violence such as has existed. That’s not just true in the Middle East; that was my experience in Northern Ireland. I think it is true elsewhere. There has to be an end to violence. There has to be, on the Palestinian side, and unequivocal renunciation of terrorism. We call it in our report reprehensible and unacceptable. And there has to be a crackdown on those who are engaged in terrorism who are within the jurisdiction of the Palestinian authority. There have to be corresponding steps on the Israeli side to try to create a sense of confidence that both are acting in good faith; that they are in fact partners in the pursuit of peace. I think it will take some time but absolutely the first step must be and end to violence.”

• Interview on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, May 7, 2001

“But because of the impact of prolonged violence, a majority of Palestinians support suicide bombings of Israelis and a majority of Israelis support whatever the use of force is deemed necessary to suppress such attacks. In other words, majorities on both sides largely agree on the solution, but they no longer trust the other side’s intentions to reach it. They’re caught in a zero-sum contest in which both are suffering.”
• Commencement Address given at MIT, June 9, 2003

Negotiations Require Patience
“I spent five years going to, coming from and working in Northern Ireland during which I chaired three separate sets of negotiations. For almost all of that time progress was very slow or mostly non-existent. So, for those of you in the Middle East who are discouraged, I understand your feelings. But from my experience in Northern Ireland, I formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. Conflicts are created and conducted by human beings. They can be ended by human beings. I saw it happen in Northern Ireland, although admittedly it took a very long time. I believe deeply that with committed, persevering and active diplomacy it can happen in the Middle East.
• Address before the Institute for National Strategic Studies, December 18, 2008

Need for Reciprocity
“…Israelis are not likely to have sustainable security if the Palestinians don’t have a state, and Palestinians will never achieve a state until the people of Israel have some security. So with each launched missile or suicide bomb attack the prospect of a Palestinian state is delayed, not advanced. But there must be available to Palestinians the clear alternative, an alternative which they must seize, of a non-violent path to a Palestinian state living in peace alongside a Jewish state. Palestinians must, in turn, accept that the Israeli demand for security is real and as necessary as is their demand for a state.”
• Address before the Institute for National Strategic Studies, December 18, 2008

Importance of Presidential Support
“There are, of course, many, many reasons to be skeptical about the prospects for success. The conflict has gone on for so long and has had such destructive effects that many have come to regard it as unchangeable and inevitable, but the President and the Secretary of State don’t believe that.

“They believe, as I do, that the pursuit of peace is so important that it demands our maximum effort, no matter the difficulties, no matter the setbacks. The key is the mutual commitment of the parties and the active participation of the United States government, led by the President and the Secretary of State, with the support and assistance of many other governments and institutions who want to help.”
• Remarks at State Department, January 22, 2009

comments powered by Disqus