Arab-Israeli conflict Benjamin Netanyahu George Mitchell Israel Middle East peace process Northern Ireland Palestinians

George Mitchell rejects the “F-word”

Much of the media are dismissing today’s Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas summit as an abject failure. Check out the Guardian, which uses the word “failure” no less than three times in its chronicle of the UN meetings, along with “meager results,” “inauspicious start” and other formulations to characterize negotiations that supposedly yielded nothing. I haven’t come across the “F-word” and its synonyms this often since the early 1980s, when, as a Red Sox fan, I would read Boston sportswriters flaying my promising but famously unsuccessful team without mercy.

Late today, at a press briefing by George Mitchell, a reporter from al-Hayat used the predictable “F-word” and asked Obama’s Middle East envoy if the administration was going to take a new approach.

Mitchell’s response offers food for thought. He’s been in the trenches of complex conflict management, unlike virtually all of the people who are criticizing him and the President. He’s done this before. So it is worth listening carefully to his positive spin and retaining at least a small measure of hope:

In Northern Ireland, I chaired three separate sets of negotiations over a period of five years. The circumstances there are so different from those in the Middle East that I am always hesitant to draw lessons from one for the other. And I do not do so now except to address directly the point that you made.

The main negotiations lasted nearly two years. And for every day of those two years in which there was public activity – and that was on most days – a reporter like you politely branded me a failure….and said that we had failed. In a technical sense, if your objective is to get a peace agreement, until the moment you get it, you have failed. So the reporters were technically correct. But in reality, we had patience, we had determination, and we had the fortitude that grows from knowing you are doing the right thing….

So yes, we haven’t gotten everything we wanted, we haven’t gotten it as fast as we want it. But in conflict resolution, if one adopts the standard that one must always get 100 percent of what one seeks at every stage of the process, [then] otherwise you’re failure, well, then of course, there would never ever be a resolution of any conflict. Painful compromises are necessary for everybody. So we are determined to proceed. We will not be deterred by – I don’t want to say accusations, but criticisms, by descriptions of failure. We believe that we are doing the right thing. We believe we have made substantial progress and we intend to continue with full determination until there is comprehensive peace in the region.

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