When George Mitchell was appointed by Obama as his Special Middle East Envoy and there was great media hype about how he would be able to accomplish things that no one else up to then had been able to accomplish in brokering a deal between Israelis and Palestinians, I was deeply skeptical. I told dovish Israeli friends and journalists in August 2009, that I did not think Mitchell would succeed.
The reason I said this was based on my own personal experience in that I had spent two days at a peace conference put on by the Israeli-Palestinian Centre for Research and Information in August 2009. There I had met average Palestinians who came to the conference because they were committed to dialogue and non-violence presumably.
But at the conference, the gaps were very wide between the Palestinians and Jewish Israelis regarding the right of return and a two state solution. Virtually all of the Palestinians I spoke with at the conference wanted “one state” (meaning a Palestinian majority and no Jewish state of Israel), and they did not want to compromise on the right of return. Presumably, these Palestinians were at the conference because they were supposed to be the more moderate of Palestinian society—and if that were the case, I did not see how a deal could be possible.
The left-wing Jewish Israelis at the conference were all speaking of a two state solution and willing to give the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as their capital—and were willing to uproot some Jewish settlements if need be, with the hopes that there would be land swaps to incorporate the larger settlement blocks.The Jewish Israelis at the conference were all against the building of new settlements or even “natural growth” of settlements. Notwithstanding this, the Palestinians still spoke of wanting a one state solution instead of a two state solution. They also were uncompromising on the right of return insisting that Palestinian refugees could return en mass to flood Israel and erode its Jewish majority. (the Palestinian position regarding the right of return explains why all those I spoke with all supported a “one state “ solution).
I went away from the conference thinking that if hard core left-wing Israelis (like Gershon Baskin) and Palestinians committed to non-violence could not come close to a deal at a conference such as this, I did not see any bilateral agreement on the horizon–whether or not George Mitchell was injected into the formula.
When I returned from the conference, I started wondering why there were no Palestinians who seemed willing to take the position that the right of return would be to the future state of Palestine only (or even mostly to a future Palestinian state), and that compensation would be offered instead to Palestinian refugees. It was something that the left-wing Israeli NGO types talked about at the confernece, and yet I had never heard this uttered out of the mouth of one Palestinian at the conference. I began to think that, presumably, if such Palestinians existed to any significant degree in the Palestinian body politic, I would have found one or two of them at the conference.
I believe that if George Mitchell had gone “under cover” and had been at that conference, he would have instinctively understood that he was going to fail in his mission.
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