Op-Ed: Mitchell is wrong man for Mideast envoy

PHILADELPHIA (JTA) – The Zionist Organization of America is concerned about President Obama’s choice of George Mitchell as Mideast envoy.

As Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post said, "The Mitchell Plan of 2001 was a flop. Why try the Mitchell approach again?"

First, Mitchell’s record shows that he incorrectly believes that the Palestinians and Israelis are equally at fault for the lack of progress. He even believed this when Yasser Arafat headed the Palestinian Authority.

Mitchell has called on "both Israel and the Palestinian Authority … to halt the violence," to "protect human rights," to "condemn and discourage incitement," to show "restraint" and to "protect holy places." The Palestinians have refused to pursue these actions, not the Israelis.

Mitchell ignores the fact that the Israelis have made major concessions while the Palestinians have made virtually none. The Israelis have given up all of Gaza and half of the West Bank, and the rest of the world gave the Palestinians billions of dollars in aid — more per capita than any country in history. Yet the Palestinians have fulfilled none of their signed agreements to arrest terrorists; end incitement to hatred and violence against Israel in their schools, media and speeches. They also have refused to accept Israel as a Jewish state, evidenced by their new Palestinian emblem showing all of Israel covered with an Arab headdress next to a rifle.

Second, Mitchell demands that Israel not allow even "natural growth" within the Jewish communities in the West Bank. This was not part of any agreement ever signed by Israel. And why reward the Palestinians for their violence and intransigence? Does Mitchell want Jews in the West Bank to stop having children, or at least not allow grown children to live in the same town as their parents?

It is a racist notion that Jews cannot live in the West Bank but Palestinians can. How is it that Arabs make up 15 percent of Israel’s population, but the Arabs won’t permit even less than 10 percent of the population in the West Bank to be Jews?

Third, Mitchell misunderstands the true goals of the Palestinians. In December, at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, he said, "The Palestinians overriding objective is an independent state." If this were true, why did the Palestinians reject the offer of statehood by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000? Instead they launched a terror war against Israel.

In making this statement, Mitchell ignores polls that show 58 percent of Palestinians reject statehood alongside Israel (An-Najah University poll, May 2008), and 70 percent of Palestinians support a one-state solution (NEC Poll, February 2007). He also ignores the American public’s rejection of a Palestinian state. A poll this month by the Jerusalem Post shows only 31 percent of Americans in favor. Remember, statehood does not bring peace. Syria, Iran and North Korea have states — are they peace-loving countries?

Fourth, and even worse, Mitchell explains away Palestinian terrorism by stating that "a cessation of Palestinian-Israeli violence will be particularly hard to sustain unless Israel freezes all settlement activity." Still worse, he accepts explicitly the idea that Palestinian Authority action in fighting terrorism is largely conditional on further negotiations and the relaxing of Israeli security measures rather than being binding on international obligations under the Oslo Accords.

"We believe that security cooperation can’t be sustained if negotiations are unreasonably defined, if security measures on the ground are seen as hostile or if steps are taken that are perceived as provocative or prejudicing the outcome," he said. Mitchell demands that "Israel lift closures," but Israel only institutes closures when necessary against terrorist attacks.

Mitchell apparently refuses to focus objectively on the evidence and distinguish between the real aggressor and the real victim. He seems unaware that the real issue is not settlements or Jerusalem or statehood but the Palestinians’ refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and that Israeli concessions are not taken as positive signs by the Palestinians but as an indication that Israel is weak and ready to cave in to more demands.

As Marty Peretz wrote in the New Republic, "Mitchell is a bit too credulous," or easily deceived. This was evident years ago when talk show host Charlie Rose asked, "Do you think Yasser Arafat will be able to negotiate for peace and take steps for peace?" Mitchell answered, "Yes, I do."

Mitchell’s diplomacy cannot work until he realizes that the answer is not more one-sided concessions but making clear that unless the Palestinians transform their culture, policies, goals and actions, they will receive no more concessions or U.S. funding.

ZOA’s concern is evidenced by the statement by former U.S. Mideast negotiator Aaron Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

"The appointment of George Mitchell," Miller said, "would be a strong suggestion that Obama is going to free himself of the exclusive relationship that the U.S. has had with Israel."

(Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.)

 

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