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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
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
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
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.
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