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Former envoy says moving Israeli capital would be ‘setback’

by dan pine, j. staff

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If folksy charm could bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians, George Mitchell would have clinched a deal by now. But the former U.S. senator and Middle East envoy knows it will take far more to bring about a two-state solution.

Mitchell and his former senior aide Alon Sachar made a Dec. 9 appearance at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club to promote “A Path to Peace,” a new book the two wrote about their experiences as U.S. negotiators.

Alon Sachar (left) and George Mitchell speaking at the Commonwealth Club on Dec. 9, 2016  photo/dan pine
Alon Sachar (left) and George Mitchell speaking at the Commonwealth Club on Dec. 9, 2016 photo/dan pine
The folksiness bubbled up with Mitchell’s amusing personal tales, such as once being mistaken for Henry Kissinger on a book tour. But he turned serious when addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We believe there is no such thing as a conflict that cannot be ended,” said Mitchell, who brokered peace between Northern Ireland’s warring factions. “We also believe it is very much in the interests of the United States, Israel and the Palestinians that they reach an agreement under which each achieves its primary objective.”

For Israel that would be security; for the Palestinians, a sovereign state. Mitchell quoted former President George W. Bush, who said neither party will get what it wants without the other getting what it wants.

Mitchell acknowledged peace has been frustratingly elusive. Twelve American presidents have tried, with limited results and no comprehensive resolution, as well as hostility and cynicism left in the wake of failed talks.

But he also pointed to enduring peace pacts Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan as signs of hope.

“Societies act out of self-interest,” he said. “They will ultimately come to see [peace] is in their mutual self-interest and will come to an agreement.”

Mitchell and Sachar conceded support for the two-state solution is declining, due to frustration and despair. But both emphasized the only way forward is for both sides to sit down face to face and, assisted by the United States, hammer out a deal. He said he is cheered by President-elect Trump’s expressed desire to tackle the problem.

Sachar addressed the so-called one-state solution, under which either Israel annexes the West Bank or is absorbed into a binational state and loses its Jewish character. Israelis and Palestinians, he said, are “politically and economically incompatible. One entity would lead to death and destruction.”

He lauded the close cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority when it comes to West Bank security, but conceded that Palestinians increasingly see this as “easing the burden of occupation on Israel.” Should it stop, though, Israel might be forced to re-occupy parts of the West Bank, an outcome nobody wants.

On a more hopeful note, Mitchell saw potential for bilateral relations between Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, due to their mutual suspicions of an ascending Iran.

“They share much in common,” he said. “The principal objective is to deter the Iranian drive for hegemony. They should be overtly allied,” though, Mitchell added, such alliances first require an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

An audience member asked the two their opinion of Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a pledge many candidates have made, yet none has kept. Both Sachar and Mitchell thought it would be a very bad idea.

“It would be a setback and reduce the likelihood [of a deal] if the embassy is moved,” Mitchell said, “but if it’s done I hope there would be the recognition of a possibility of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem in the future. Otherwise it would be a serious blow to solving the conflict. Jerusalem is a Muslim issue, not just a Palestinian issue.”

To underscore that point, Mitchell noted that Muslims now total one-fifth of the world’s population. By the time humanity reaches 10 billion in number, he said, Muslims are expected to make up a third of all people on earth.


Comments

Posted by Jack Kessler
12/16/2016  at  01:52 PM
Starting from False Premises Leads To...

Is the “primary objective” of the Palestinians really “a sovereign state”? 

Judging by their violent rejection of a sovereign state in 1947, I would say not. 

Judging by their rejection of a sovereign state after Israel liberated them from Jordanian and Egyptian occupation in the Six Day War, I would say not.

Judging by their walking out of the Camp David peace talks when they were offered a sovereign state that recognized Israel, I would say not.

Judging by their refusal to abide by the terms of the Oslo Accords of 1993 that would have led to a sovereign state, I would say not.

Judging by their refusal to negotiate at Taba in 2001, I would say not.

Judging by their ongoing and incessant incitement of their population to violence against Jews and in favor of destroying Israel “from the River to the Sea”, I would say not.

George Mitchell knows this history and these facts as well as anyone.  So why does he pretend not to?

“Societies act out of self-interest” says George Mitchell.  Yet he knows as well as anyone that Palestinians as individuals and as a society are as irrational and self-destructive as a suicide bomber.  They have started endless wars and intifadas and waves of violence knowing full well that they could not win against the IDF.

Rational adults act out of self-interest.  If the Palestinians di,d this whole fight would have ended 70 years ago.  But it goes on to this day because the Palestinians are not rational adults acting out of self-interest.  George Mitchell knows this as well as anyone.

So why does he pretend to believe otherwise?

The reason is not hard to surmise.  If he were to admit that all Israel wants is peace and security and that the problem is the irrationality and intransigence of the Palestinians, he would be unable to present himself as neutral between the parties.

Which is to say that because the facts are NOT neutral, if he were to acknowledge them he would be seen as biased by the Palestinians.

The current situation is the continuing implementation of the 1947 UN partition plan.  Under it, where the Jews live is Israel, where the Palestinians live is Palestine. 

Today there is no state and no border, only the green line.  It is the location of the military front at the time of the armistice in 1949.  It signifies no more than does the location of the First World War’s military front from 1914-1918.  It is not the border between Germany and France any more than the green line is the border between Israel and a barely-possible Palestine.

Where Jews settle in Judea and Samaria is Israel for the same reasons the rest of the country is Israel - because Jews live there.  Exactly as the partition plan called for.

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