At Last, an Honest Broker for the Middle-East (M.J. Rosenburg / Israel Policy Forum)

Zal Obama’s speciale onderhandelaar George Mitchell slagen om een evenwichtige oplossing te vinden voor ‘het’ conflict in het Midden-Oosten?

Hopefully, George Mitchell’s tenure as special envoy to the Middle East will turn out to be a case of what Yogi Berra would call, “deja vu all over again.” Specifically, we could use a repeat of May 9, 2007, which was the highlight of Mitchell’s career thus far.

That was the day that the conflict over Northern Ireland, which began in the twelfth century (and in which 3,500 people had been killed since 1966) ended. It was the day when Protestant leader Reverend Ian Paisley joined former senior IRA commander Martin McGuiness in a power-sharing Catholic-Protestant unity government.

It was a day, in the words of the BBC, “of such improbability that it sets a new benchmark against which the future will judge unlikely events still to come”—like an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For a time it appeared that Israelis and Palestinians would end their conflict before Irish Catholics and Protestants. It was in 1993 that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasir Arafat signed the Oslo Agreement on the White House lawn.

But then Rabin was assassinated in 1995 by an Israeli terrorist and, just as the killer intended, Oslo died shortly after its Israeli sponsor. After Rabin’s murder, neither Israelis nor Palestinians fully observed the agreement (although it still succeeded in dramatically reducing the violence).

The Irish equivalent of Oslo was the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which created the framework for peace by establishing a power-sharing arrangement between Protestants and Catholics. The ancient enemies would serve side-by-side in the same government, settling disputes through politics not violence.

Like Oslo, the Good Friday Agreement hit snag after snag, with both sides caught violating its terms. Just two months after it was signed, 29 people were killed and 200 injured in an attack by an IRA splinter group in the city of Omagh—an action designed to scuttle the peace process. But none of the major players on either side were assassinated, as Rabin was, and each setback was followed by intensive efforts to resuscitate the agreement.

This last point marks a striking difference with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Protestants and Catholics never stopped negotiating following an act of violence. Israelis and Palestinians invariably use acts of violence as a pretext to stop negotiating; never seeming to grasp—or not caring—that by doing so they were giving the terrorists on both sides a veto on the peace process.

Another difference worth noting is that while Oslo was signed by moderates in the Israeli and Palestinian camps, the Irish peacemakers were hard-liners known for their intense animosity toward the other side.

In an article about successful mediation that he wrote with Richard Haass in 2007, Mitchell said: “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 with those who are involved in it. To be sure, their participation will likely slow things down and, for a time, block progress. But their endorsement can give the process and its outcome far greater legitimacy and support. Better they become participants than act as spoilers.”

That is how it worked in Northern Ireland. Both sides were represented by hardliners; fanatics in fact.

Protestant Paisley had famously said, “If an IRA man comes to a Protestant home and my men are there they will kill that IRA man. Yes sir.” Catholic McGuiness once said, “I am prepared to go to jail. I would rather die than disrupt or destroy my code of honor to the IRA.”

The gaps that divided Irish Catholics and Protestants were every bit as wide as those dividing Israelis and Palestinians. Like Israelis and Palestinians, the two sides were fighting over one piece of land (although the Northern Irish could not simply divide it between them as Israelis and Palestinians can). The religious animosity was as intense as that between Jews and Muslims. And the 800-year old Irish conflict was some 700 years more ancient than the 100-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So why did the Good Friday Agreement succeed while Oslo collapsed?..

For the last eight years, Israelis and Palestinians have made commitments that neither has lived up to. Although the Bush administration had no hesitation pointing to Palestinian non-compliance, it almost never called on Israel to live up to its commitments (think of the oft-promised settlements freeze).

Moreover, U.S. envoys to the region—including Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice—never had full presidential backing for their efforts and were repeatedly undermined by Elliot Abrams and other White House neoconservatives.

As a result, the United States lost its credibility as an honest broker and, as George W. Bush’s term ended, the conflict was infinitely farther from resolution than it was when Bill Clinton left the White House.

That is about to change. Mitchell’s appointment is the proof.

President Obama would not have appointed George Mitchell unless he intended to push the process to a successful conclusion. Nor would he have made the appointment in the presence of the vice president, secretary of state, and the assembled staff of the State Department.

As for Mitchell, it is safe to assume that he would not have taken the job if he did not know that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would fully back his efforts, without regard to the supposed political constraints on disinterested mediation. After all, Mitchell is going down in history as the man who brought peace to Ireland. It is inconceivable that he would choose to follow that success with failure in the Middle East.

As for Barack Obama, he promised to begin the serious pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement during his first year in office. He’s well ahead of schedule. He appointed and tasked George Mitchell as special envoy on his second full day in office.

Obama wasn’t exaggerating. He is indeed “fired up, ready to go.” Also ready to go, and now almost sure to go, is the ugly, pointless, and horrifically bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the words of the song Michelle and Barack Obama danced to at ten inaugural balls on Tuesday night: “At Last.”

At Last, an Honest Broker (M.J. Rosenburg’s column in Israel Policy Forum)

A member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family warned U.S. President Barack Obama Friday the Middle East peace process and U.S.-Saudi ties were at risk unless Washington changed tack on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel had come close to "killing the prospect of peace" with its offensive in Gaza, Prince Turki al-Faisal wrote in an article published on the Financial Times’s website.

"Unless the new U.S. administration takes forceful steps to prevent any further suffering and slaughter of Palestinians, the peace process, the U.S.-Saudi relationship and the stability of the region are at risk," said Turki, a former Saudi intelligence chief and former ambassador to the United States and Britain…

Saudi Prince Says U.S. Ties at Risk Over Mideast (Reuters)

Gaza war ended in utter failure for Israel (By Gideon Levy in Haaretz)

International Law and Israel’s War on Gaza (by Francis A. Boyle in Global

Hoe zal president Obama’s Midden-Oosten beleid zijn?


3 thoughts on “At Last, an Honest Broker for the Middle-East (M.J. Rosenburg / Israel Policy Forum)

  1. I respect this guy and his integrity. There are however three differences here.
    – stamina
    Israeli people (with eastern european influx) are far from tired from this conflict. I don’t know for palestinians, but I think there are plenty of muslim extremists in the world to keep it going on that side as well.
    – neutrality
    The USA is Israel. A new president can not change that impression overnight.
    – theater.
    This is not local, but international. Personal integrity plays a minor part here, I’m afraid. It’s power that really counts.
    It will all depend on the theaters elsewhere.
    The US has a money problem, but it still has the military supremacy. You see however that it is losing on the internet. Chinese and russian "hackers" can do what they want.
    Mr. Obama will be tested by Russia, bluntly trying to regain lost ground. China will go about this far more subtle, they know about ‘long term’.

  2. "… Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman complains the diplomat is too fair and balanced for the post:
    “Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “But the fact is, American policy in the Middle East hasn’t been ‘even handed’ — it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support.”
    “So I’m concerned,” Foxman continued. “I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.” (
    Opmerkelijke en veelzeggende reactie. De man is niet oneerlijk genoeg en niet partijdig genoeg.

  3. In the most important single move for Middle East peace in this decade, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are sending former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East diplomacy.
    Those who claimed Obama would wait regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not understand either Obama or the world. The world cannot wait. Obama will not wait.
    As he promised during the campaign, Obama started on Day One to change American policy and seek a lasting peace in the Middle East.
    Consider what Barack Obama did in his opening hours as President. Torture by our nation has ended. Guantánamo will be closed within the year.
    The President spent his first day in office calling leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel for starters and now has announced that he will send Mitchell to the Middle East. This is change, a very big change indeed, as promised.
    The road to peace in the Middle East will be long, winding, hard, challenging and uphill. The crises, conflicts and torment of the Middle East did not begin overnight and will not end overnight.
    But the long road begins by taking a first step, and the first step is an American President who is fully committed and engaged in the mission of Middle East peace.
    When President George W. Bush first took office, the word went forth that he would not be engaged. In 2003, when Bush announced his "road map" for Middle East peace, he described himself as "the master of low expectations," which immediately signaled that his low expectations would be met.
    By contrast, Obama has started immediately calling leaders, ending controversial policies, and naming a world-class, first-rate special envoy in George Mitchell.
    History will judge Obama’s inauguration as a great inflection point for the Middle East as well as the United States.
    There will be moves to open doors to Iran and to be more active in soothing relations between Pakistan and India. There will be an appeal to the world community by ending torture and closing Guantánamo. There will be new programs to reduce poverty, misery and disease for people through the Middle East, including and especially Gaza.
    And above all is George Mitchell as über-negotiator for Middle East peace.
    Mitchell is a world-class heavyweight with major clout in Washington and with leaders around the world who know him well. He succeeded brilliantly in negotiating an end to the carnage in Ireland, which seemed so intractable at the time, and now seems, only a few years later, a distant memory.
    Mitchell was able to use his diplomatic talents and persuasions to broker one of the hardest conflicts in the world, in Ireland, and has a history of calling on all parties in the Middle East to make concessions for peace, which augurs well for his ability to be an honest and effective broker.
    The mission in the Middle East will be hard, tough, against great odds. But for the first time in this decade, America has a President willing to put his prestige and clout behind the mission and a negotiating heavyweight in Mitchell with a history of success and the clout to make things possible, which is the precondition for any success in this conflict-torn region.
    The page is turned.

    Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. He can be read in The Hill newspaper, where he is a columnist. He can be reached at

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