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Is George Mitchell in the Middle East, or Northern Ireland?

A dozen years ago, former senator George Mitchell helped to broker a peace accord, the "Good Friday agreement," between warring Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The Irish still appear to be grateful. But I'm not so sure about Israelis and Palestinians -- who appear to be doomed to listen to Mitchell draw parallels between their conflict and that of the Irish at every possible opportunity.

"I have in the past referred to my experience in Northern Ireland," Mitchell said at a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, following the latest round of talks between Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. No kidding. Mitchell has brought up his previous experience as broker in virtually every media briefing he has conducted since his appointment by President Obama in January 2009.

His invariable point is simple, and alarmingly reductionist: Northern Ireland's conflict had dragged on for decades and was considered intractable by most. Then Mitchell began chairing negotiations -- and in less than two years, a deal was struck. It follows that Israelis and Palestinians can also overcome their seeming intractable differences in less than two years.

Mitchell reported on Wednesday that his Middle East clients are actually ahead of the Irish timetable: "The negotiations there lasted 22 months," he said -- a fact that the press has been reminded of numerous times. "And it was many, many months into the process before there was a single, serious, substantive discussion on the major issues that separated the parties.

"In this case, within a matter of literally days since this process began, the leaders have... engaged directly, vigorously, seriously in the most difficult and -- in what are among the most difficult and sensitive issues that they will confront." Mitchell cheerily concluded: "This is a strong indicator of their sincerity and seriousness of purpose."

Netanyahu and Abbas no doubt were pleased to hear how favorably they compare with Gerry Adams and David Trimble. So far, of course, they haven't seemed to make much progress on those "sensitive issues"; in fact, they have been rejecting each other's positions in public.

But that shouldn't be too worrisome, according to Mitchell's Irish model. "I’ll return, if I might, to my experience in Northern Ireland," he said at an Aug. 20 briefing at the State Department. "The main negotiation lasted for 22 months. During that time, the effort was repeatedly branded a failure. I was asked at least dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times when I was leaving because the effort had failed.

"And of course, if the objective is to achieve a peace agreement, until you do achieve one, you have failed to do so. In a sense, in Northern Ireland, we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success."

Okay, so we need only wait for the day when Netanyahu and Abbas suddenly "say yes instead of no," as Mitchell put it about the Irish in a press conference last year. But what about the extremists in the region, like Hamas, which have vowed to violently disrupt any movement toward an accord? Mitchell's Irish analogy covers that, too.

"The reality is that in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein, the political party that is affiliated with the IRA, did not enter the negotiations until after 15 months had elapsed," Mitchell told reporters Aug. 31 at the White House. "And only then because they had met two central conditions that had been established. The first was a ceasefire, and the second was a publicly stated commitment to what became known as the Mitchell principles....

"So there are analogous -- not identical and not directly comparable -- conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet with respect to Hamas. And if there is movement to accept those principles, as ocurred with Sinn Fein and the IRA in Northern Ireland, why then, of course, they would be welcome."

So Hamas will follow the path of Sinn Fein and the IRA? That seems a bit of a stretch for a movement that two weeks ago proudly claimed credit for the murder of six Israeli civilians in the West Bank. Mitchell's observation about the leaders' embrace of serious issues also appears a little strained: After all, Israelis and Palestinians have already discussed those same issues in multiple sets of negotiations dating back to 1992 -- most of them involving Abbas, Netanyahu, or both. The problem has not been that they won't take on the issues, but that they have been chronically unable to bridge their differences on them.

Mitchell himself has taken to pointing out that "circumstances are very different" between the Middle East and Ireland and that "one must be careful about transferring principles," as he put it Wednesday. Yet he keeps doing it. I can't help but wonder if his memories of past glories are clouding his judgment of current events.

By Jackson Diehl  | September 16, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Comments

It seems you would rather not talk to Hamas than make peace with Hamas.

Posted by: MarkThomason | September 16, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Yep, the Irish, Jews and Arabs have a great deal in common. Perhaps Mr. Mitchell should start off each meeting with a pint of Guinness on the house.

Posted by: johnson0572 | September 16, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Whistling past the graveyard...

While Mr. Mitchell's goals are laudable, his Pollyannaish statements about progress can be sloughed off in light of the Israelis' intransigence in respect of freezing settlement construction.

It seems that the entire world, apart from the US, knows that the only way peace is going to be achieved is by the US bringing pressure to bear on Israel - with AIPAC in its present power position, such pressure seems unlikely.

Posted by: chet380 | September 16, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

There's one huge difference between what Mitchell faced in Northern Ireland what he faces today in Palestine. The US was not afraid to lean hard on the UK government to force it to make real concessions.

Today, the US is afraid of Israel and its Lobby. The US is subservient to Israel and The Israel Lobby. The US thus will not pressure Israel to make any real concessions. The US instead will follow Israel's orders and try to force the Palestinians to commit national suicide.

As Israel's Foreign Minister Lieberman said publicly, the US takes orders from Israel. "Believe me, America accepts all our decisions." "Lieberman: U.S. will accept any Israeli policy decision" (Haaretz, April 23, 2009).

Refreshing honesty from Israel for a change.

And why did Hamas kill those Jewish terrorists? Because they had been attacking and terrorizing Palestinians first. Funny how Mr. Diehl didn't mention that.

Posted by: Garak | September 16, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

The IRA came to terms for one reason only: a census revealed that the Catholic population of Northern Ireland was bigger than everyone thought and was on course to become a majority. With the prospect of electoral victories awaiting a demilitarised Republican movement, laying down their arms became a no-brainer.

The same process will eventually drive the Israelis to negotiate seriously with the Palestinians. Arabs are about to become half of the population in the lands controlled by Israel. They will soon be a majority. A time is coming when they will abandon the fight for a state of their own and demand the vote in the polity that now exists between the Jordan and the Sea.

Many smart Israeli politicians like Sharon and Olmert saw this coming. That's why they founded Kadima. The whole point of Sharon's attempted "disengagement" was to cut away majority-Arab areas, to stave off the moment of Jewish minority status.

Once the Israelis find themselves fighting to deny the vote to 6-8 million Arabs on Israeli-owned or occupied territory, they're doomed.

Maybe, maybe, reality is even sinking in with the slow learners of Likud.

Posted by: bourassa1 | September 16, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA call for the destruction of England?

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA claim that England was not the homeland of the English people, but should be returned to the Irish?

When did the Pope claim that all of England belonged to Ireland by dint of Catholic decree?

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA require that
England accept back millions of English/Irish refugees?

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA claim that the continued existence of England was illegitimate, since the English rejected Catholicism?

Posted by: captn_ahab | September 16, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. Diehl,

It's easy to fill a column by taking shots at George Mitchell and his slow but steady approach to bringing the parties and the political will together to create the capacity for a truly landmark peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The odds are against him and by constantly reiterating the length of time it took to make it work in Ireland he is a feckless cheerleader desperately trying to infuse hope in both sides and down the line through the innumerable proxies that may or may not choose to play a meaningful role in making peace possible. I believe we all need to work to make it more rather than less likely as the consequences of failure will only serve the interests of the funeral industry.

Posted by: ldsnider | September 16, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The role of George Mitchell is hyped, but the truth is when the provisional IRA bombed a funeral in Omagh, it ended popular support for the struggle in the Catholic community in both the north and republic. Simply put, when popular support for the struggle end, peace came to the north and nothing George Mitchell did really mattered. Until both sides in the Middle East want people, nothing George Mitchell does will really matter.

Posted by: jeffreed | September 16, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA call for the destruction of England?

* When did the English ethnically cleanse Ireland of the Irish through mass terror and herd the rest into concentration camps so that the English could confiscate their homeland?

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA claim that England was not the homeland of the English people, but should be returned to the Irish?

* When did the English claim the Ireland is not the homeland of the Irish?

When did the Pope claim that all of England belonged to Ireland by dint of Catholic decree?

* When did the English claim that the god gave Ireland to the English?

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA require that England accept back millions of English/Irish refugees?

* When did England claim that the Irish could never return to Ireland?

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA claim that the continued existence of England was illegitimate, since the English rejected Catholicism?

* When did England claim that the existence of Ireland was an existential threat to England?

Posted by: Garak | September 16, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA call for the destruction of England?

* When did the English ethnically cleanse Ireland of the Irish through mass terror and herd the rest into concentration camps so that the English could confiscate their
homeland?

Answer: The Israelis never ethnically cleansed anything. There was a war in 1948 that the Arabs began, and an equivalent amount of Jews became refugees as Palestinians due to the Arab initiated war. That is a fact. The camps the Arabs found themselves in are not "concentration camps", and are as much the result of Arab behavior as the war.

These are facts.
_________________

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA claim that England was not the homeland of the English people, but should be returned to the Irish?

* When did the English claim the Ireland is not the homeland of the Irish?

Answer: The Israelis offered to return the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. The Arabs gave the 3 Nos at Khartoum. No negotiation, no recognition, no peace. Besides there were no Palestinians before 1967. There was no call for a state for Palestinians between 1947 and 1967.
________________________

When did the Pope claim that all of England belonged to Ireland by dint of Catholic decree?

* When did the English claim that the god gave Ireland to the English?

Answer: The Israelis don't claim their country through God or any other supernatural entity. They claim it through a vote of the family of nations at the UN in 1947.
_________________________

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA require that England accept back millions of English/Irish refugees?

* When did England claim that the Irish could never return to Ireland?

Answer: The Israelis are not denying the right of the Palestinians to return to a Palestinian state. In fact, they will be invited to return to Palestine.
_______________________

When did Sinn Fein or the IRA claim that the continued existence of England was illegitimate, since the English rejected Catholicism?

* When did England claim that the existence of Ireland was an existential threat to England?

Answer: Never, because unlike the PLO charter and the Hamas charter, Sinn Fein never required the destruction of England to meet its existential angst.
__________________________


You really don't understand the history of the Middle East conflict. That is why your analogies are so poor.

You really should read history outside of Arab sources. It will help you understand the current negotiations better, and the differences between that conflict and the one in N. Ireland.

Posted by: captn_ahab | September 16, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Read jihadwatch.org, so much is going on that is not reported in Wapo.

Posted by: shewholives | September 16, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

DEFINITION OF THE TWO STATE SOLUTION ON THE EASTERN SHORE OF THE MEDITERRANEAN:
BORDERS RECOGNIZED BY BOTH STATES AND MANY INTERESTED NATIONS
DIPLOMATIC RECOGNITION OF BOTH STATES BY THE EAST AND WEST
ABSENCE OF ACTIVE WAR. (PEACE, TRUCE (NO VIOLATION OF BORDERS)
THE PROSPECTS ARE NOT GOOD BUT HOPE NEVER DIES!!

Posted by: kenhandler1 | September 16, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I think Mr. Diehl has a valid point in his comment. You cann't compare N. Ireland with the situation in Palestine. In N. Ireland the indigenous Irish people were not cleansed from their homeland by foreign people. In Palestine, Powerful Russian Khazars created "Israel" in Palestine at the expense of the indigenous people of Palestine, the Palestinian people. Pre-1967 Israel is a reality for now. But what about the extremists in the region, like the settlers in the occupied West Bank, who have vowed to violently disrupt any movement toward a peaceful accord? One of the settlers is the Russian thug Lieberman who serves as Mr. Netanyahu's foreign minister!!!!

Posted by: editor4tonio | September 16, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Aipac rules our congress and Netanyahu is our de facto president. And we are destined to fight multi-trillion dollar wars against the Islamic world forever. Our economy be damned.
Its the new paradigm.
Get used to it.

Posted by: qualquan | September 16, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

George Mitchell is certainly a skilled diplomat. Perhaps the main difference between the Northern Ireland and Middle East peace negotiations is that Sinn Fein and the IRA were motivated towards a peace because they had run out of funding. During the cold war, the IRA were funded and often equipped by the Soviet bloc. Post cold war, the IRA were funded primarily by Irish-Americans. Sinn Fein leaders made numerous fund raising trips to the U.S. Only after President Clinton enforced a law against U.S. nationals supplying funding to IRA, did things change. The IRA had to resort to robbing banks and kidnapping for hire to raise funds, making them increasingly unpopular among their own constituents. So back to the middle east, Hamas has ample funding (from Iran) and is under no real pressure to make peace. The bright spot is that the presence of Hamas prevents Fatah from becoming an Iranian client, allowing more leverage from the West.

Posted by: tds15 | September 16, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Where have all the flowers gone? Where have all the young men gone? Educating them in new ways takes time. What does it take to make someone feel like negotiating as a first resort, instead of making war? The moderates in each country have to hold their own talks. No matter what the hot heads think.

Posted by: deepthroat21 | September 16, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

DIEHL
puts his finger on it (foot IN it)....

THe Jews think they are singular, exceptional, nothing else in the world anything like them. Superior and alone.

NO RULES APPLY.
NO HISTORY EXCEPT THEIR OWN phony made up history all too often. Their own god told them they're the ones.

So any experience, even their own detested history, doesn't count. It was eery body else's fault.

How well that works can be seen in their numbers.

1/3 or less of the other ancient religious.
And not exactly safe anywhere. LIsten to the screaming. But no rules apply.

Posted by: whistling | September 16, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse


This single vision coumnists is BESIDE himself that anyone should compare the ISraelis to the Irish.

Well, sonny so world be most of the rest of the world, where the Irish are, have been and will be, great favorites.

And as for the talks being impossible because of six Israeli deaths...SIX? Ever heard of the West Bank, the Gaza atrocities, the Lebanon cluster bombs?
Do you pretend the poor dear Israelis have been abused? Not the savage abusers?

Posted by: whistling | September 16, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Obama wants to expand Arab influence at Israel's expense remember the putting of israel just short of under the bus?

Mitchel and Hillary are just cogs following orders.

Hamastan will overrun Fatah in a day u.s. arms and all.

And three guesses as to whom is overrunnig the entire world. Hint--sword on flag.

Posted by: truth34 | September 16, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Obama wants to expand Arab influence at Israel's expense remember the putting of israel just short of under the bus?

Mitchel and Hillary are just cogs following orders.

Hamastan will overrun Fatah in a day u.s. arms and all.

And three guesses as to whom is overrunnig the entire world. Hint--sword on flag.

Posted by: truth34 | September 16, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Obama wants to expand Arab influence at Israel's expense remember the putting of israel just short of under the bus?

Mitchel and Hillary are just cogs following orders.

Hamastan will overrun Fatah in a day u.s. arms and all.

And three guesses as to whom is overrunnig the entire world. Hint--sword on flag.

Posted by: truth34 | September 16, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Obama wants to expand Arab influence at Israel's expense remember the putting of israel just short of under the bus?

Mitchel and Hillary are just cogs following orders.

Hamastan will overrun Fatah in a day u.s. arms and all.

And three guesses as to whom is overrunnig the entire world. Hint--sword on flag.

Posted by: truth34 | September 16, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Abbas and Egypt's FM won't recognize Israel as Jewish state? Yet Egypt is called the ARAB republic of Egypt. And Islam (incl. Shariah} there is the official state religion, although 23 million Copts are a minority. That doesn't seem to disturb the two when it comes to tiny only one Jewish state in the world.
Let me add Mr. Kuttab Israel has 2 million Arab-Israel citizens whereas Palestinian territories are Judenrein as official policy.

One day after peace talks and Abbas says he won't make one concession. If Netanyahu said same the EU, UN, U.S., leftists, Kuttab, etc. would label him obstructionist.
But not one peep to label Abbas obstructionist.
Fify billion bucks could be headed for the Palestinians in peace deal says Egypt's foreign minister. FM doesn't reveal from whom. Well it's not hard to guess from where is it. The EU, U.S., U.N. make it a cinch for Abbas to do nothing as they will provide it all anyway esp. at Israel's expense

Posted by: truth34 | September 16, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Abbas and Egypt's FM won't recognize Israel as Jewish state? Yet Egypt is called the ARAB republic of Egypt. And Islam (incl. Shariah} there is the official state religion, although 23 million Copts are a minority. That doesn't seem to disturb the two when it comes to tiny only one Jewish state in the world.
Let me add Mr. Kuttab Israel has 2 million Arab-Israel citizens whereas Palestinian territories are Judenrein as official policy.

One day after peace talks and Abbas says he won't make one concession. If Netanyahu said same the EU, UN, U.S., leftists, Kuttab, etc. would label him obstructionist.
But not one peep to label Abbas obstructionist.
Fify billion bucks could be headed for the Palestinians in peace deal says Egypt's foreign minister. FM doesn't reveal from whom. Well it's not hard to guess from where is it. The EU, U.S., U.N. make it a cinch for Abbas to do nothing as they will provide it all anyway esp. at Israel's expense

Posted by: truth34 | September 16, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

Abbas and Egypt's FM won't recognize Israel as Jewish state? Yet Egypt is called the ARAB republic of Egypt. And Islam (incl. Shariah} there is the official state religion, although 23 million Copts are a minority. That doesn't seem to disturb the two when it comes to tiny only one Jewish state in the world.
Let me add Mr. Kuttab Israel has 2 million Arab-Israel citizens whereas Palestinian territories are Judenrein as official policy.

One day after peace talks and Abbas says he won't make one concession. If Netanyahu said same the EU, UN, U.S., leftists, Kuttab, etc. would label him obstructionist.
But not one peep to label Abbas obstructionist.
Fify billion bucks could be headed for the Palestinians in peace deal says Egypt's foreign minister. FM doesn't reveal from whom. Well it's not hard to guess from where is it. The EU, U.S., U.N. make it a cinch for Abbas to do nothing as they will provide it all anyway esp. at Israel's expense

Posted by: truth34 | September 16, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Go home. No peace accord is likely to occur with a broker who prefers one party over the other (and has shown that consistently for the past 60 years), and with Abbas, who represents US and Israeli interests. Spare us the motions that all new presidents must go through.

Posted by: Kingofkings1 | September 16, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Am I the only one sick to death of this guy's constant spewing hasbara? Will the WP ever insist on integrity in its columnists?
Lord forbid!

Posted by: paabrhm | September 16, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

This is the usual idiotic waste of time, a re-election bid for Obama, maybe. I don't know. Hamas murderers just killed an entire family, including a PREGNANT woman.

They continue to attack Fatah, which is, of course, corrupt, and Abbas cries help. Israel sends troops. Blah, blah, and blah.

Meanwhile there has been a freeze on settlements for 11 months and the entire time Abbas complained they were pointless.

Now, suddenly, he won't negotiate unless the freeze remains, and, is unwilling to put anything on the table. Blah, blah, and, of course, blah.

IDEA: Skip the help next time Hamas attacks Fatah. Let Abbas defend his own self.

Bring Clinton home; she'll make things worse, is clueless.

Waste of time. Again.

Posted by: FarnazMansouri2 | September 16, 2010 11:08 PM | Report abuse

'Free american media' cares sooo much about human rights in tehran but not in apartheid israel - occupied palestine.
'Free american media' calls the apartheid wall a 'security fence'.
does not report ethnic cleansing of palestinians, house demolition, preventing palestinians from building homes on their land, jewish only roads leading to settlmets ie. 'colonies', preventing
7 million refugees from returning to their land in apartheid israel for fear of upsetting the 'demographic balance'.
No words in the 'free media' about rachel corrie, no word about the last gaza war where courageous IDF used palestinian
kids with ages 7,8,9 to walk in front of IDF and open booby traps. DISGUSTING
apartheid zionist propaganda makes any decent human being sick

Posted by: MumboJumboo | September 17, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

Zionism = Nazism = superiority over some other weaker race

Posted by: MumboJumboo | September 17, 2010 12:22 AM | Report abuse

This seems the most minor of pickiness. Mitchell can only jaw-jaw this process, at least in public, so it makes sense for him to provide as much encouraging noise as he can. The Irish situation looked intractable too, and yet was vastly improved, if not solved. It provides a positive model of what is possible.

No analogy is perfect, and I am sure the sophisticated Mr. Mitchell is fully aware of the differences, but his role benefits from the success he achieved in Ireland, and I see no downside to his using it.

Posted by: glenerian | September 17, 2010 7:43 AM | Report abuse

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