While he held the job of President Barack Obama’s peace process envoy, former US Senator George Mitchell generally maintained a good reputation. He came into the job with high regard because of his role in Northern Ireland.
During his Middle East tenure, Mitchell was notoriously tight-lipped, allowing people to believe that behind the stony face was a tough and fair “honest broker” who would privately take Israel to task in ways that the US could not do publicly.
But this was always an illusion. As detailed minutes of previously secret meetings, revealed in the Palestine Papers showed, Mitchell was very much ‘Israel’s lawyer’ – to use Aaron Miller’s famous term – just like all previous US envoys and officials. Mark Perry and I analyzed some of these documents revealing Mitchell’s role as Israel’s enabler.
Now, Mitchell has spoken out at London’s Chatham House on 17 October, and in his own words – as reported by Israel’s Haaretz. His comments largely confirm that in his general approach and in very specific ways, Mitchell was actively working to Israel’s agenda and was never remotely an “honest broker.” Here are some highlights from the Haaretz article with my analysis.
Endorsing collaboration with occupation despite disastrous effects on Palestinians
“Order and personal security [in the West Bank] have been established in a way that never was previously,” stated Mitchell. “The problem is that that effort cannot be sustained in the absence of progress, or at least the hope of progress on the political front. It will break down internally on the Palestinian side, and it will break down in relations with the Israelis. And it is to President Abbas’ credit that, notwithstanding the fact that we haven’t been able to get into meaningful negotiations, he has maintained co-ordination and co-operation on the security front and it continues.
In other words, Mitchell sees it as positive and praiseworthy that Mahmoud Abbas is unconditionally collaborating with Israeli occupation forces without any benefit for Palestinians. When Mitchell talks about “order and personal security” he means order and personal security for Israeli occupiers and settlers and perhaps at certain periods for Palestinians restricted to the showcase Area A ghetto-cities of Ramallah and Nablus. But for Palestinians living all over the occupied West Bank and eastern occupied Jerusalem there is neither order nor personal security.
In the eastern occupied Jerusalem neighbhorhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, hundreds of families live with the insecurity of knowing their houses are targeted for destruction for the benefit of Jewish settlers.
In the southern West Bank tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin face the prospect of forced removal from their land, and everywhere else – especially during the current olive harvest – Palestinians face attacks by Israeli government-backed colonial settlers.
This is the “order and security” that Mitchell is praising.
Interfering in Palestinian politics, opposing reconciliation
Speaking on Gilad Shalit’s release, Mitchell said that the subject is extremely sensitive for Israelis, and that the deal has positive aspects. Yet he insisted that the prisoner exchange had yielded negative results, such as strengthening Hamas vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority.
It has been known since January, thanks to the Palestine Papers, that the Palestinian Authority lobbied strenuously against the prisoner exchange precisely in order to deny Hamas any credit. Yet there were also persistent reports that Mitchell and the US vetoed the deal going through earlier. Mitchell’s reported comments add weight to that assessment.
Mitchell’s logic can be inferred: his priority was to keep the Palestinian leadership weak and divided so that the most subservient element, the Abbas-led PA, would be more vulnerable to a US-brokered deal on Israel’s terms. This contrasts markedly with his approach in Ireland, where the US supported a broad Irish nationalist common front encompassing the Republic of Ireland government, and the “moderate” and “extremist” nationalist parties in Northern Ireland to strengthen their negotiating positions vis a vis the British-backed unionists.
Shock, horror, Israel might have to “choose” democracy
Changing demographic realities will compel Israel to make fateful choices, Mitchell suggested.
“Israel, if the two state solution is lost, will have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic state,” he said. “And that’s a choice they should not have to make.”
Mitchell makes clear with these words that he shares Israel’s racist perception of Palestinians not as rights-bearing human beings but as a ‘demographic threat’ to Jewish supremacy.
His priority – like that of the rest of the US Zionist foreign policy establishment, and like President Obama – is not justice, or even “peace” but first and foremost maintaining racial and colonial privileges for Israeli Jews. What alarms Mitchell most of all is that Israelis should ever have to abide by democratic principles in which all people have equal political rights, regardless of their membership in one or another ethnoreligious group.
Israel, Mitchell tells us, should never be forced to choose democracy. Instead it was his job to try to goad Palestinians into accepting a bantustan on Israel’s terms that would spare Israel that terrible “choice.”
Palestinian Authority not subservient enough for Mitchell’s liking
If we take the Haaretz report as a complete and accurate report of Mitchell’s comments (admittedly something that can’t be taken for granted), what’s notable is that he attacks the PA for not seizing the opportunity of Israel’s so-called 10-month “settlement freeze” but he was silent about the fact that the freeze was fake all along:
Mitchell also criticized the Palestinian Authority’s responses to American efforts to renew negotiations with Israel. He claimed that the Palestinians were unwilling to accept the 10-month settlement construction freeze declared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November 2009; the Palestinians contended that this freeze was “useless,” and refused to engage in negotiations.
“They refused to enter into the negotiations until nine months of the 10 had elapsed,” Mitchell said. “Once they entered, they then said [the freeze] was indispensable. What had been worse than useless a few months before then became indispensable and they said they would not remain in the talks unless that indispensable element were extended.”
A few crucial facts: First, the “settlement freeze” never even nominally included eastern occupied Jerusalem, where Israel has been most aggressive in demolishing Palestinian homes and expanding its racist colonies. Second, in the rest of the West Bank the “freeze” was never a freeze since it only included “new” construction and excluded the thousands of colony homes for at various stages of completion.
Finally, once the formal 10-month “freeze” ended, Israel immediately embarked on a building boom which Israel’s Peace Now termed “the most active period in many years.”
So Mitchell doesn’t appear to have been concerned about the reality, but only about the PA’s willingness to go along with a fiction that there was a “freeze” when there never was.
All of this only confirms that Mitchell himself learned nothing from his experience in Northern Ireland.
No matter which personalities are appointed to “peace process” roles in a US administration, a commitment first and foremost to Israel’s racist and colonial agenda and to the safety and “security” of its occupation are always the highest priorities, with Palestinian rights nowhere on the horizon.