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.

24 thoughts on “George Mitchell rejects the “F-word”

  1. Very nice post, Dan. Considering how long Catholics and Protestants have been killing each other in Northern Ireland, the cessation of most of that violence seems quite amazing (at least to me).

    Just thought I would place a link to a video about 2 towns in Israel, Karmiel (Jewish)and Majd el-Krum (Arab), and their efforts to reach out to each other. It’s about 16 minutes long. Not routine to find Jewish and Arab children speaking of their friendship and affection for each other.

    I was fortunate to hear Dr. Stolov speak at DePaul University last winter. The environment at most Catholic universities have not been as bad, on this issue, as public universities. But DePaul has been, unfortunately, one of the worst. While he was on the faculty, Norman Finkelstein seemed to be a lighting rod for controversy, and this added to a rather “charged atmosphere”.

    But when Dr. Stolov finished his presentation, the response, from students (Jewish, Catholic and Muslim)and faculty…was a standing ovation. It was quite inspiring. Just a bit more in the “small measure of hope” department.

  2. Obama painted himself into a corner with his demand for a “total freeze” on settlement building which he has now backed off on. He is now “demanding” final status negotations, as if they have not occurred in the recent past. Olmert already offered Abbas the “terms of an agreement everyone knows the parameters of” and Abbas rejected it. Obama has no cards to play…he can’t force the Palestinians to do anything they don’t want (e.g. give up the “right of return” because if he threatens to cut the aid the US and EU gives which the Palestinian Authority depends on for its very existence, the will say “if you cut the aid HAMAS will take over”, and he can’t put sanctions or other punishments on Israel because American public opinion overwhelmingly supports Israel over the Palestinians, and they won’t understand why a US ally is being punished for not capitulating to the Palestinians and other Arabs who are viewes as hostile to the US.
    Also Christians in the US won’t want to see the Christian churches in Jerusalem turned over to the mercy of the Islamist extremists.

    For those who are always claiming that “everyone” in the world is against Israel, here is an interesting piece about the election of a new head for UNESCO, in which an Egyptian antisemite was rejected “by the world” in spite of his active opposition to Israel.

  3. “For those who are always claiming that “everyone” in the world is against Israel, here is an interesting piece about the election of a new head for UNESCO, in which an Egyptian antisemite was rejected “by the world” in spite of his active opposition to Israel.”
    Yeah. So?
    I mean, what’s your logic in this? They rejected an anti-semite, so obviously they like Israel? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there are a few other conclusions one could draw from this.

    “Must read”
    You, sir, just wasted several minutes of my life by designating this piece of idiotic tripe as above. “We should just subjugate, humiliate and impoverish them some more, then they will eventually accept us. Maybe a few more decades.” Yeah, right. Or the three-state solution. Or anything else which, and this is the gist of everything Pipes ever writes, lets Israel have all the land and makes the Palestinians vanish.

    It’s not only stunningly offensive, racist and colonialist (I expected no less), it’s also mind-boggingly ignorant of reality. There is no “war”. There was one in 1967, and another one in 1973. Israel won both of them. What Israel didn’t manage – because it didn’t bother to – was to built a peace instead of extending a normally short-term condition of suspended hostilities and occupation over several decades.

    “For the vanquished he only knew one thing – subjugation.” Sebastian Haffner wrote this – you can probably guess about whom. The point in the essay I quoted this from was not the moral depravity of said statesman, however, but his inability to break up alliances, turn friends into allies and accomplish things by wartime diplomacy. And Pipes is of exactly the same ilk. Crude, apolitical nonsense with no imagination beyond beating people into submission.

  4. Call Daniel Pipes anything you want–but apolitical? Odd choice of adjective!?! lol!

    I have to agree with him–war generally doesn’t end until one side is defeated and waves a white flag. The historical proof of that is unrefutable.

    That may be the very obvious pink elephant for why Oslo etc have fallen apart.

    Maybe Tom can speak to this, as my knowledge of N. Ireland negotiation details is shoddy…but my perception is that there wasn’t decades of negotiations fallen apart. In fact, there wasn’t much negotiating at all.

    It all happened within one decade (starting in the 90s). And it happened after a very specific sequence of events occurred (IRA ceasefire being most prominent).

    I could be wrong about this…

  5. Apolitical, yes. Not in the sense of not having political opinions or political preferences. But in the sense of having a sense for political solutions.

    And that is very evident here. Especially, but by no means only, in the fact that he, in a grotesque misperception of reality, sees the current conflict as a “war”. A misperception which you apparently share.

  6. The I/P conflict is pretty much a constant state of low level war with flare ups due to aggression. Look up the latin roots of guerrilla warfare–and you start to get the picture.

    That’s why the language of war (i.e., ceasefire etc) is a constant in this situation. This should be elementary, for crissakes. I’m not going to play semantics here. It’s a bloody damn war–with constant threat of devolving into bloodshed–as per Gaza.

  7. Hm. Censorship or technical error? In any case, I’m not writing a long response post again. I’ll just repeat myself:

    “Crude, apolitical nonsense with no imagination beyond beating people into submission.”

    … plus the entirely absurd application of military surrender to “the Palestinians”.

  8. Koshiro:

    Apparently you’ve never heard of the Khartoum Summit resolutions from Nov. 1967 with the three famous no’es: No recognition of Israel; No negotiations with Israel; No peace with Israel. After the 1973 war Israel did negotiate separation of forces agreements with both Egypt and Syria and went on with a negotiating process with Egypt that ended in a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.

  9. I would put Pipes’ thesis as such:

    It is not a case of “beating them into submission”, but rather
    that the Palestinians and the other Arabs come to the realization that violence and force will not achieve anything for them, and that if they do so, they will only lose more. The Oslo Agreements led them to think that this was not the case. Olmert’s pathetic statements that Israel can’t fight anymore was simply an invitation to war, which led to 2 wars within 3 years.
    In any

  10. Hm. What’s the trick question here? What does any of this (which I *of course* know about) have to do with Pipes’ little colonialist hate-fest?

    Wait, I can see what you mean: Only after 1973, when Egypt and Jordan had, far from accepting their defeat, in fact asserted that they were still dangerous and that they had – in their interpretation – fought Israel to a stalemate at least, they were ready to make peace with Israel. Which is the opposite of what Pipes says. Of course. It’s clear now, thanks.

    Oh, and you probably also meant to show that such formal military/political acts are concluded by states such as Egypt, not by “the Palestinians”, and that it is nonsensical to expect a whole population to “surrender”. Naturally, that’s correct.

    That *is* what you meant to say, isn’t it?

  11. George Mitchell is one of the very few reasons to be optimistic about achieving a peace deal. Thankfully, it is a very big reason. Amid all the daily (hourly?) to-and-fro of events, opinions, campaigns, personalities, etcetera, we should all be grateful that Mitchell will be the steadfast and patient force in the middle. His appointment is by far the most important thing Obama has done to promote peace, and in this Obama has done very well.

  12. You: “It is not a case of “beating them into submission””


    Daniel Pipes: “Nor will it be pretty: Defeat in war typically entails that the loser experience deprivation, failure, and despair.”

    “Palestinians need to experience the crucible of defeat to become a normal people”

    “Israel’s ultimate enemy, the one whose will it needs to crush, is roughly the same demographic size as itself.”


    Of course, all of Pipes’ dribble builds upon the false choice: “Endorse the Palestinian goal of eliminating Israel or endorse Israel’s goal of winning its neighbors’ acceptance.”

    Can’t have a nice hate-fest with some lies as a groundwork, can we now?

  13. Koshiro-
    When I said “beating into submission”, I was referring to what happened to Japan and Germany after World War II. Obviously, Israel is not in a position to do that to the Arabs.

    The Yom Kippur War did not end as a “stalemate”, the Arab’s side suffered a massive defeat. Their offensives were completely broken and the military intiative had passed to Israel. The Arabs viewed the war as a “victory” because they had inflicted signficant casualties on Israel at the beginning, showing that the Israelis were not “supermen” (were they ever?).
    Jordan had only a minimal involvement in the 1973 War. Egypt suffered close to a complete military defeat (its army was completely surrounded), so Sadat, needing American aid, decided on the ‘peace agreement’. The lesson that Egypt and Syria learned was that a full-scale military clash with Israel was too costly and that the conflict in the future would have to shift to a more low-intensity war of attrition, conducted by proxies such as HIZBULLAH in Lebanon and HAMAS in Gaza, and the FATAH-Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade in Judea/Samaria, and the addition of medium and long-range rocket forces which didn’t require large-scale ground forces to operate.
    Since Israel succeeded in showing that full-scale frontal warfare was counterproductive to the Arab side, it now has to show that this new form of confrontation also will backfire. The fact that HIZBULLAH did not react to Israel’s Operation “Cast Lead” war in Gaza possibly shows that HIZBULLAH realized that the pounding they received in the Lebanon II war was not worth repeating. So this could be a confirmation of Pipes’ thesis.

    The fulfillment of Pipes’ thesis would be the best thing that ever happened to the Arabs just as the TOTAL WAR FOR TOTAL VICTORY policy of the Allies freed Japan and Germany from the fascist, militarist forces that led their countries to disaster. Once the Arabs give up their sick obsession with blaming all their problems on Israel and stop trying to destroy it, they can turn their energies to improving the lives of their own people.

  14. “When I said “beating into submission”, I was referring to what happened to Japan and Germany after World War II. Obviously, Israel is not in a position to do that to the Arabs.”
    If Israel had, in 1967, looked at the post-WW2 Allied policies in Japan, and adopted a similar policy for the development of a Palestinian state, we would have had one for decades. But it didn’t.

    But I digress: So “crushing their will”, “deprivation and despair”, “crucible of defeat” does not sound like beating them into submission to you? Then what would?

    “The Yom Kippur War did not end as a “stalemate””
    That’s not what most Arabs thought. Nothing else is relevant in this case.

    “The fulfillment of Pipes’ thesis would be the best thing that ever happened to the Arabs just as the TOTAL WAR FOR TOTAL VICTORY policy of the Allies freed Japan and Germany from the fascist, militarist forces that led their countries to disaster.”
    That’s a nonsensical comparison for a simple reason: The Palestinians are already militarily defeated. Totally defeated. Indeed, they were never military successful. Gaza and the West Bank are occupied territories under complete Israeli military control. The situation is similar to 1946, not to 1941 – and even that only in vague terms.

    All Pipes suggests is what to do to them *after* that defeat. And that sounds a lot more like Morgenthau than like McArthur. Of course, Pipes also inserts his “we must do it to the Palestinians as proxies for all the other Arabs” angle. Yeah, right. Because he believes that the “other Arabs” actually care about and are deeply involved with the Palestinians.

    In any case: I do not believe that Pipes’ suggestions, even as offensive as they are, are serious. Pipes is, as far as I can tell, firmly in the extremist camp for whom the perfect solution would be the expulsion of all Palestinians from the West Bank, and possibly Gaza too, but who’ll settle for their permanent oppression if that should prove unfeasible. Anything actually conductive to a political solution of the conflict is anathema for him, and if my hunch is correct, his newest efforts are simply an effort to stir up the “war” hysteria in order to stall and delay any negotiations. When it becomes opportune, he will instead argue for forgetting about concentrating on the Palestinians and seeking a rapport with Egypt and Jordan over his version of the 3-state solution again.

  15. It seems pretty straightforward to me: as long as someone is funding and arming Hamas, Hizbollah–and other jihadist movements–it IS a proxy war.

    I don’t know what to think of Egypt’s role in all this. I’m with those who think Egypt has honored a ceasefire. On the other hand, it’s well known that no one (in the Arab world) lets bygones be bygones.

    In a sense, it’s kind of like the Cold War: proxy wars, paranoia, saying one thing in public, and doing something completely different behind the scenes.

    Hopefully Hamas can’t stomach another Gaza attack. That would be too cruel. It really is up to them.

  16. Y’all are arguing from a false premise–Sadat made a peace offer in 1971. Israel wasn’t interested. The offer has gone down the memory hole.


    You can find this referred to in some books (I think Avi Shlaim mentions it, but I’m not going to get up and look). Amazingly enough, it’s also in wikipedia–


  17. Sadat did not make a peace offer in 1971. That is a myth the Left has been circulating for years, as if to blame Golda Meir for the Yom Kippur War. Sadat supposedly leaked to a few people a desire to see some sort of unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Suez Canal in return for unspecified concessions, probably a continuance of the cease-fire along the Canal which Nasser agreed to just before he died in 1970. Israel’s policy derived from the failure of its unilateral withdrawal from the Sinai in 1957 was no more unilateral actions of this sort, Israel would insist on peace agreements accompanying the withdrawal. Sadat, new in power, was not in any position to offer a peace agreement. Only by claiming “victory” in the Yom Kippur War and then seeing his regime endangered by domestic unrest in 1977 did he feel he was in a position to sign such an agreement, but in the end it didn’t help him, he was still considered a traitor and assassinated unmourned in 1981.

  18. Ya’akov,
    As usual, your perception of history is very selective. Sadat made a public offer; Dayan wanted to take him up on it to see how serious he was but Meir demurred. Read any biography of Dayan written after 1971 and its in there. Because Meir refused to even follow up the public statement, no one knows how serious Sadat was.

  19. Ya’akov,
    Egypt was tactically defeated in 1973 and would have been strategically defeated if the war had continued, but was in possession of roughly a comparable amount of territory on the East Bank of the Suez as Israel was on the West Bank when the ceasefire went into effect on Oct. 24. It was Syria thas was totally defeated.

  20. Koshiro,
    Actually the Palestinians were minor combatants on the northern front in the 1973 war and major combatants in the 1982 war. They have adopted a “long war” strategy the same as the IRA did in Northern Ireland.

  21. I think the entire issue is of intent.

    “Where there is a will there is a way”.

    The obstacles to peace are mostly the construction of those that for their reasons don’t want peace.

    There are too many Israelis that don’t accept that Palestinians ARE, they are as individuals, communities, and now they are as a self-identified people.

    And, there are many Palestinians and dissenters that don’t accept that Israelis ARE.

    So, Israel expands settlements, in odd parallels of Biblical story to describe current relations then married to expansionistic logic of likud nationalism.

    Few accepting the other, both “oriental”. Going both ways.

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