I'm pleased there is at least a temporary cease fire in Gaza, as I indicated in my post of January 6th was badly and urgently needed. I'm also pleased that Hillary Clinton has been confirmed by the Senate as President Obama's new Secretary of State and that Mr. Obama has appointed former U. S. Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy for the Middle East, with particular focus on Israel and the Palestinian territories. Most of my readers will remember that Mr. Mitchell, a 76 year old Arab American, was a key player in securing the successful Belfast Peace Agreement, signed in 1998, that finally brought peace to Northern Ireland.
It is obvious that it's in almost everyone's best interest, especially the great majority of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, that a fair and long lasting peace agreement be achieved, but it is difficult to be very confident about the prospects. Many conservative Israelis are understandably extremely uncomfortable with the concessions they expect will be required of them with respect to Jewish settlements, the sharing of Jerusalem, potential return of Palestinian refugees, and trusting Hamas militants and their supporters, including Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All Israelis and their allies, including the U. S. and the European Union, cannot accept any agreement that leaves intact Hamas' oft stated refusal to accept Israel's right to exist and commitment, shared by the Iranian government, to destroying Israel.
The bulk of the Palestinian people deserve and urgently need a good peace agreement, especially those who live in the West Bank, those who live in Gaza and didn't support Hamas in the last election, and the hundreds of thousands who live as de facto refugees in other parts of the Middle East, in Europe and the U. S. It should be very clear to objective Gazans that Hamas' policies have been very harmful to their interests. However, as long as Hamas remains in power in Gaza, and continues to be supported by radical Islamists and many other Islamic Arabs who are unhappy with the West's bias toward supporting Israel, achieving peace will be a major challenge.
The Palestinians have legitimate reasons to be uneasy about trusting the West to be fair in trying to broker a fair peace agreement and in Israel' s trustworthiness. Since 1948, when Israel was established from the British Mandate of Palestine, the U. S. and several countries now part of the European Union have been key players in providing foreign aid and selling modern weapons and related technology to Israel. For many years Israel tolerated, and to some extent encouraged, Gaza's Islamic militants, leading to the founding of Hamas, as a counterweight to the more moderate, secular nationalists of the PLO and its dominant faction, Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat. Most Palestinians and other Arabs feel strongly that Israel's recent 22 day offensive was highly disproportionate to the actions of Hamas' missile attacks in the southern part of Israel. Much of this feeling is based on the fact that more than 1,200 Palestinians were killed, the majority probably innocent civilians, while only 13 Israelis lost their lives.
I presume that Mr. Mitchell in his new position, working under both Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama, will cooperate closely with former British prime minister Tony Blair, special envoy for the Middle East since 2007 on behalf of the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the U. S. To succeed they will need serious support from several major Middle East Islamic neighbors, including Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq. It would also be very useful to have some support from Iran, but obviously that cannot be expected.
I expect a good peace agreement with a two-state solution will be one of the highest foreign policy priorities of the Obama Administration, the UN, as well as the EU. The first step should be a formal extended cease-fire agreement of at least a year to allow Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Blair to meet all the big players and design an effective strategy for peace agreement. Two of Mr. Mitchell's most important strengths, aside from diplomatic and negotiation skills, are patience and perseverance. He will definitely need a lot of that, plus a good measure of luck.