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Quick Facts: US Mideast Envoy George Mitchell

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TEHRAN, May 15 (ICANA) – Friday's announcement of George Mitchell's resignation as the U.S. mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict appears to be yet another sign of the disarray and failure of U.S. President Barack Obama's policy on the Middle East.
Sunday, May 15, 2011 5:54:32 PM
Quick Facts: US Mideast Envoy George Mitchell

Who is George Mitchell?

 

Mitchell served as a federal judge until he was appointed to the United States Senate in May 1980 by the governor of Maine, Joseph Brennan, when Senator Edmund Muskie resigned to become U.S. Secretary of State. He was then elected in 1982, serving as Senate majority leader from 1989 to 1995.

After leaving the Senate, Mitchell headed peace negotiations between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, an effort that led to the 1998 Good Friday Accord aimed at stemming the long-standing conflict. Reuters

George J. Mitchell led a commission appointed by President Bill Clinton to find ways to halt Israeli-Palestinian violence. His 2001 report called for Israelis to freeze construction of new settlements and stop shooting at unarmed demonstrators, and for Palestinians to prevent attacks and punish those who perpetrate them. Reuters

Mitchell headed an investigation into illegal steroid use in baseball. His 2007 report named 89 players with links to steroids, including stars like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Reuters

In the first days of his administration, President Obama named Mitchell special envoy for Arab-Israeli affairs. NYT

On May 12, 2011, administration officials said that Mitchell had decided to resign. NYT

His decision came ahead of a major speech on the Middle East next week by Obama and visits to the White House by King Abdullah of Jordan and by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. Telegraph

Direct negotiations a failure, who is to blame?

George Mitchell led nearly two years of proximity talks, in which he functioned as an intermediary between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, shuttling back and forth between the two sides. BBC

Mitchell spent much of the spring and summer of 2010 leading indirect talks that led to the White House ceremony that kicked off the direct, if brief, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. NYT

But the negotiations quickly fell apart after Israel declined to extend a moratorium on construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank. BBC

Mitchell was unable to push the two sides to restart the talks, and his travel to the region slowed significantly after December. BBC

In fact, Mitchell's departure now is the clearest signal that no new peace initiative from the administration is forthcoming. Foreign Policy

"There's nothing they can do right now," said former negotiator Aaron David Miller. He added that Mitchell isn't responsible for the current state of the peace process, because the direction of the administration's Middle East policy was always controlled by the White House. Foreign Policy

"To blame Mitchell for an administration that never had an effective strategy is just wrong," said Miller. Foreign Policy

“Two years of shuttling back and forward and Senator George Mitchell has nothing to show for it. But then neither does the Obama administration as a whole,” says Kim Ghattas, BBC correspondent in Washington. BBC

The resignation of U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell on Friday puts a punctuation mark on the end of two years of high-profile meetings and quiet stalemate in the Israel-Palestinian peace process, which has all but collapsed on the Obama administration’s watch. Politico

But this year’s developments in the region – the Arab Spring, and a consequent surprise peace deal between rival Palestinian factions brokered by Egypt – cast the Obama administration’s role further to the margins. Politico

 

Why did Mitchell resign?

 

Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations says “the final straw for Mitchell was a failure to convince the White House that the President's speech next week must include an American detailed plan for Middle East peace… Mitchell was said to believe that such a plan could bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table now for a serious negotiation.”

“This is extraordinary, for it seems to overlook the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement signed two weeks ago. Israel is not going to negotiate with a delegation containing Hamas representatives, whether an American plan is on the table or not. Moreover, both parties would likely have rejected parts of any detailed American proposal (while officially applauding it, of course), so Mitchell's idea would have left the President looking weaker. It was bad advice,” Abrams wrote May 13. (Press TV)

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