Is­raelis wor­ried by Mitchell

ANAL­Y­SIS YAAKOV KATZ

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News -

IT IS no se­cret that Is­rael is con­cerned at the ap­point­ment of Ge­orge Mitchell, who ar­rived in the coun­try this week as the new United States spe­cial en­voy to the Mid­dle East.

When he ne­go­ti­ated the Good Fri­day Agree­ment in Ire­land in 1998, he said there was no con­flict that could not be re­solved, and speak­ing at a con­fer­ence in Tel Aviv last month he re­it­er­ated this view, declar­ing: “It may take a long time but with com­mit­ted, ac­tive and strong lead­er­ship it can [also] hap­pen here.”

On Wed­nes­day, the for­mer US Se­na­tor, ar­rived in Is­rael for meet­ings with se­nior po­lit­i­cal leaders in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert, For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni and Likud chair­man Binyamin Ne­tanyahu.

Meet­ing Mr Mitchell was so im­por­tant for De­fence Min­is­ter Ehud Barak that he post­poned a trip to the Pen­tagon.

Mr Mitchell, the son of a Le­banese mother and Ir­ish fa­ther, is no stranger to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. In 2001 he pro­duced the Mitchell Re­port which an­a­lysed ways to get the peace process — which broke down with the Sec­ond In­tifada — back on track. It is the re­port’s con­clu­sions that have given Is­raeli of­fi­cials cause for con­cern now that Mr Mitchell is back as Pres­i­dent Obama’s en­voy.

The re­port called for the usual ces­sa­tion of vi­o­lence and a re­sump­tion of Is­raeli-Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity se­cu­rity co-op­er­a­tion. Ul­ti­mately, the re­port ar­gued, the Pales­tini­ans had to make ef­forts to pre­vent ter­ror­ist op­er­a­tions and Is­rael had to “freeze all set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity”, in­clud­ing the “nat­u­ral growth” of ex­ist­ing set­tle­ments.

One Is­raeli gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial ex­pressed con­cern that Is­rael might come un­der pres­sure to be­gin dis­man­tling out­posts and set­tle­ments: “Mitchell is com­pletely op­posed to the set­tle­ments and some­times gives the im­pres­sion that the set­tle­ments are the great­est ob­sta­cle to peace”.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, on the day that Mr Mitchell ar­rived, Peace Now re­leased a re­port claim­ing the set­tler pop­u­la­tion had grown from 270,000 in 2007 to 285,000 in 2008 and that the num­ber of struc­tures in the West Bank had also grown by 69 per­cent.

Fear­ing that Mr Mitchell will try to force a peace agree­ment on Is­rael, the set­tler lead­er­ship also held demon­stra­tions op­pos­ing a Pales­tinian state.

But Pro­fes­sor Efriam In­bar, from Bar-Ilan’s Be­gin-Sa­dat Cen­tre, said that Is­rael had noth­ing to fear from Mr Mitchell or the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion: “Mitchell is not a great Zion­ist but the Amer­i­cans say they will not im­pose an agree­ment on us. There is also the very com­pli­cated re­al­ity in the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity right now with Ha­mas in charge of Gaza. The US will not be able to change that since the Pales­tini­ans them­selves are not in a po­si­tion to es­tab­lish a state.”

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials gave Mr Mitchell an as­sess­ment of the ca­pa­bil­ity of Pales­tinian se­cu­rity forces in the West Bank and the For­eign Min­istry pre­pared a file, in­clud­ing de­tails of the re­cent Gaza op­er­a­tion.

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