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January 27, 2009

Success Unlikely, But George Mitchell Gives Mideast Peace a Shot

The end of the most recent skirmish in the everlasting Israeli/Palestinian war and the arrival of a new administration has opened another window in the everlasting quest for peace in the region. A very experienced and capable envoy has been assigned the task but if he's in any way successful, I'll be shocked.

President Obama has sent former Senator George Mitchell, whose resume includes brokering the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland, as well as service on numerous commissions and study groups. (Let's leave aside his less-than-stellar investigation of steroids in baseball.) Mitchell knows the region, knows the history and is tasked with bringing the sides together nearly a decade after the last peace process fell apart. To say he'll have his work cut out for him may be the understatement of the year.

Notwithstanding the New York Times's inexplicable decision to publish a bonkers op-ed by Mohmmar Khadafy, of all people, pushing the idea of a single state with unlimited Palestinian right of return, there's really only one viable endgame to the conflict: A two-state solution, generally along the 1967 lines, with the Palestinians promising to put down terrorism and the Israelis pulling back on settlements. Other than the most entrenched elements on both sides, everyone agrees that this is the framework that must eventually be reached.

Will this happen in the next decade? It's unlikely, but possible. But more importantly, if such an agreement were reached, will it hold forever? Almost certainly not. That would require strong leadership, respected and trusted by large majorities on both sides, committed to peace and ready to deal with one another. And the permanence of an agreement would require that leadership to be maintained.

Clearly, neither side of the conflict is even close to this. The Palestinians, of course, choose to elect Hamas, a full-on terrorist organization, to represent them as their government. They have also, again and again, chosen terrorism over negotiation, violence over peace, and conflict over resolution.

The Israelis have done nothing like this (do you hear that, Moral Equivalence Police?), but what they have done is elect a string of ineffectual, weak leaders, none of whom have carried the authority or gravitas of Yitzhak Rabin. Is there anyone in Israeli politics who can command the respect that Rabin could? Not that I know of, especially not among the current candidates for prime minister. Israel needs peace and security, but none of its leaders in recent years have been very good at providing either.

It's also not quite easy to go directly from a ground invasion to a permanent peace deal. Now, Israel absolutely has a right to defend itself, and not stand for rocket attacks on its citizens. In Gaza, it exercised that right, with super-targeted precision. Launching that war was probably the least-bad of many bad options that Israel had, and it carried out the attack and then got out.

Yet the fact is that civilians are dead, including children. Israel did not intend to kill children, the way Hamas often does, but those children are still dead, and their relatives aren't going to let it slide. I expect those whose homes were destroyed will remain angry for quite some time, and that anger is most likely going to be directed at Israel. Then, of course, there's the specter of a nuclear Iran hanging over everything.

I love Israel. I've been there, I have a strong kinship with the land, and know that it needs to be protected. And for that reason, I believe that a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians needs to be reached. Do I have any hope that this will happen anytime soon? Not really. But George Mitchell is welcome to give it a shot.


2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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