A Brief History of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East
by George J. Mitchell (Former U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace) and Alon Sachar
Simon & Schuster (2016)
As we all know, the shuttle diplomacy sank like an anchor in the Mediterranean and, within a year, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, its most devastating bombardment against the people living in Gaza which lasted for 51 days in the summer of 2014.
If anyone could have pulled off a successful negotiation, it would have been George Mitchell. He was John Kerry’s predecessor in the negotiations and the primary architect of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for peace in northern Ireland. He’s smart, well-educated, with a sincere heart for the job. I suspect there were high hopes all around when he was appointed by President Obama to serve as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace in 2009.
Mitchell’s book about the negotiations, written with his assistant Alon Sachar who worked in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau of the U.S. Department of State, is a thorough recap of the history before and during his tenure (2009 – 2011). As the book title implies, he shares his prescription for the future.
Despite their very knowledgeable recitation of the history and the facts, I’m dumbfounded with what these two men failed to say. Their omission is key to why the negotiations failed ….. and will always fail ….. between Israel and Palestine.
About half way through, it finally dawned on me that Mitchell and Sachar had not mentioned the OCCUPATION, not once, not a single time.
What is also glaringly absent from this discussion is the Fourth Geneva Convention and its unequivocable and categorical prohibition of settlements in the occupied territorities. They are illegal under international law, but Mitchell and Sachar, both lawyers, don’t mention that fact. Why?
How can anyone negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine without talking about the elephant in the room?
I found it fascinating to learn about some of the discussions behind the scenes, about the personalities involved, and how the media (at least from Mitchell’s perspective) undermined the negotiations at key points. He failed to mention who might have been feeding the media the information, and why?
They couldn’t write a book about negotiations in the Middle East without talking about the growth of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and how these settlements are a serious impediment to any agreement. They spelled it out clearly, beginning with President Reagan’s condemnation of the settlements up to the current rapid growth of settlers in 2016.
President Reagan: “The immediate adoption of a settlements freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in [peade] talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the cnfidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be free and fairly negotiated.”
Since Oslo, Israel’s population has grown roughly 2.3% on average per year, yet the settler population has increased by roughly 6%. In 1992, there were over 100,000 settlers in the West Bank. In 2009, there were close to 300,000 settlers. In mid-2016, there was an estimate of over 400,000.
Just as they tried to approach the negotiations even-handedly, so did they with this historical accounting of the events and the parties.
Unfortunately, they failed in both cases. And their failure highlights why the U.S. government cannot be an honest peace broker between the parties.
The omissions in the book are undoubtedly omissions in the negotiations. I suspect these omissions go a long way towards explaining the failure of the “peace talks”.
As long as the U.S. endows Israel with state-of-the-art weaponry and Billions in military aid; as long as we talk about the two sides as equals, rather than occupier and occupied; as long as we avoid the elephant in the room (It’s the OCCUPATION, stupid!) …. then the U.S. has no credibility in these negotiations, and we should step aside.
Someone needs to write a sequel to Mitchell’s book, entitled perhaps “A Path to Failure: A Brief History of the U.S. Role in Creating, Supporting, and Nurturing the Occupation.” We need to learn from our mistakes.