Tuesday, January 27, 2009


It’s my great honor to introduce the man who the President and I have asked to be the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. He will lead our efforts to reinvigorate the process for achieving peace between Israel and its neighbors. He will help us to develop an integrated strategy that defends the security of Israel, works to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will result in two states living side by side in peace and security, and to achieve further agreements to promote peace and security between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Senator Mitchell will also work to support the objectives that the President and I believe are critical and pressing in Gaza, to develop a program for humanitarian aid and eventual reconstruction, working with the Palestinian Authority and Israel on behalf of those objectives.


"Polonius: What do you read, my Lord? Hamlet: Word, words, words".

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, scene II.

The announcement on the 22nd of January by the new American Secretary of State, Mme. Clinton, alongside the new American chief Executive, of two 'special envoys', former Senator George Mitchell, and, former Ambassador Richard Holbrook, made the running in the American and European press about the 'return' of American diplomacy after the disastrous Bush the Younger years (see: www.ft.com, for typical comments of this vent). Mitchell of course, was named as the envoy to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. With Holbrook named to deal with Afghanistan-Pakistan. Today I want to take a brief look at whether or not the naming of Senator Mitchell, represents a substantive change in American policy from the Bush Regime, or not. So far we have been inundated with symbolic changes by the new American Administration. From talking to the Arab-language media, to mentioning that the Americans did not 'hate' Arab people (whoever said that they did?), and, that in the case of Persia, that the USA wanted to engage in a dialogue of mutual 'respect'.

Et cetera. Meaning of course, that what is on display is meaningless words `a la Hamlet to that supreme of early-modern chinovnkii, Polonius.

The fact of the matter is, that in absence of substance, meaning a concrete decision by the new American administration to break the logjam, that has been Neat Eastern peace-making in since the failure of the Camp David Summit of the summer of 2000, nothing, rien, zero, will occur. Notwithstanding all of the words ever spoken by all of the special envoys that Washington can come up with. Now of course George Mitchell, is a very very honorable and experienced man in the art of peacemaking. However the problem is that he is: a) not very well versed in the intricacies of the problem; b) he is at 75 years old, perhaps not best able to undertake the rigors of full-time peace negotiations; c) perhaps easily mislead by erroneous comparisons with his prior work in Northern Ireland. Where by the time that he helped to negotiate the 'Good Friday' agreement, in 1998, he was dealing with parties who were more than ready to negotiate a settlement. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal to suggest that this is the case now, in the Near East.

Indeed, as Aaron David Miller, one of the key officials who helped to formulate American policy in the Clinton years, has recently remarked, the naming of ex-Senator Mitchell, has more to do with "'station identification'", id est., giving the appearance of activity and change without the substance of the same. As Miller, who like his ex-colleague, Robert Malley, is rather harsh about the intentions of the new American Administration, argues:

"it's clear to me that they've substituted at this stage process for substance. They have no intention of making major changes in America's approach to the Arab-Israeli issue, because right now, the prospects of any sort of conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians are slim to none.
"Mitchell's Prospects for Lasting Israeli-Palestinan Accord: 'Slim to None'" 26 January 2009 in www.cfr.org

With according to Miller, the fact that it is Mitchell rather than Secretary Clinton herself who is going to be making the first trip to the region by a member of the new administration, evidence that, Gaza War or no Gaza War, the problem will be forced to take a back seat:

"I worked for six secretaries of state, from George P. Shultz [in the Reagan administration] to Colin Powell [in the Bush administration], and none of them agreed to bring in a high powered envoy like George Mitchell, who frankly could have been the secretary of state, who has political stature and negotiating skills and the kind of seniority to play the lead role on the Arab-Israeli issue. Secretaries of state very early in their tenure don't normally subcontract issues out. So in the end, it's something of a management problem for the secretary of state. More importantly, to become an effective and consequential secretary of state such as Henry Kissinger and Jim Baker, you need to "own" an issue, and not just own it, but you need to work it".

All of which just means, that with the resumption of tit for tat exchanges between Israel and Hamas, today, one can look forward to more such engagements in the future, as I do not envisage how a 'subcontracted' Near East Diplomacy produce anything but 'words, words, words' (see: "Israel hits Gaza Tunnels as US envoy due", in www.reuters.com).


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