Al Jazeera Blogs


Mitchell has a point

Middle East peace seems a long way off but the US special envoy says it was that way for Northern Ireland too.

Last modified: 26 Nov 2009 03:34
Photo by Reuters

Al Jazeera will never stray from its mission of rigorously but fairly questioning policy makers but sometimes you just have to sit back and say well, maybe you have a point that can't be argued with.
This happened to me on Wednesday here at the US state department in Washington DC when President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, appeared in the media briefing room.
He came to talk about the 10-month Israeli new settlement construction freeze in the West Bank with the exception of kindergartens, synagogues and existing projects. 

No such freeze in East Jerusalem.
Mr Mitchell said that this was more than any Israeli government had done before.
But it's also true that the Israeli offer is not really new (I seem to remember a similar pledge at the Annapolis Summit in the George W Bush era) and it was swiftly rejected by the Palestinians as not good enough.
But here's the thing ... earlier Mitchell shared with us hacks a story from his days brokering peace in Northern Ireland. 
He pointed out that he'd chaired two years of meetings that were written off in the media as a failure. 

That's 700 days of disagreement before there was a breakthrough. 
Mitchell said: "You can't accept the first no, the second no, or even the one hundredth no, you cannot be deterred by criticism and you have to be patient."
And that's the bit you can't really argue with.
As someone who grew up in Britain in the 70s and 80s I know how unlikely it was that Republicans and Loyalists would ever see eye-to-eye ... and now they sit in the same parliament together.
Ambassador Mitchell said the US is committed to a twin state solution and will use the 10-month window of opportunity to find a mechanism for getting both sides back round the negotiating table. 

He also said "no one gets everything they want".
He's clearly hoping for a repeat of his Northern Ireland success and who knows, he may be right, it might turn out that way if he can get both sides back round the table.
Peace in the Middle East won't come next week or likely for many, many weeks to come, but with a man like George Mitchell, charming, persistent, patient and experienced, you do have to wonder if it's just a bit closer than it sometimes seems.
John Terrett, Washington DC.  November 26th 2009