Former Sen. George Mitchell has been chosen as President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy. What are the pros and cons of Mitchell serving in such a role?
Mitchell does have diplomatic experience beyond that of the typical senator. After leaving the Senate, he served as a special envoy to Northern Ireland and helped to bring about a peace agreement among Protestants, Catholics, the government of Ireland, and the United Kingdom. His work was highly praised and, in the words of the Washington Post, he is considered “smart, tough and very patient, attributes that will no doubt come in handy as he attempts to work a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”
While some might think that resolving and ending this sectarian strife would provide a good paradigm for moving forward in the Middle East, such an analogy is flawed. Many Palestinians question Israel’s legitimacy as a state. Also, there was not a refugee issue to deal with in Ireland, and Catholics did not hold a view that a victory over the Protestants was divinely inspired and mandated. Finally, the IRA did not want to conquer London. The New Republic‘s Marty Peretz has gone so far to write that Mitchell’s experience in Northern Ireland is “frankly, no experience at all.”
Jonathan Tobin of Commentary‘s Contentions writes that the precedent of the Irish peace deal is not a precedent that has much relevance to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians for a variety of reasons. Even Mitchell seems reluctant to claim that his experience in Ireland will help in the Middle East.
Does Mitchell appreciate these dimensions of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians? He seems to have a very rosy view about the prospects of peace between the two warring sides.
But, more importantly, does he fully understand the challenges he faces?