Reliable sources report that George Mitchell, a hero of the Good Friday agreement which ended Catholic-Protestant warfare in Northern Ireland, is set to step down from his post as US peace broker.
Having tried and failed to relaunch negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis since being appointed by President Barack Obama early in 2009, Mitchell is apparently “to bow out” or “throw in the towel” in despair - as they say. If this report is correct, Mitchell’s departure would be a tragic and dangerous development.
The source said Mitchell could be replaced by Dennis Ross, a US negotiations broker under the Clinton administration, a committed Zionist and loyal servant of Israel. If this information is correct, this will signify the utter, humiliating defeat by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud of Obama’s administration, which set out to “change” US regional policies.
Mitchell’s departure would be tragic because, once again, Palestinian hopes for a homeland have been raised by a new US administration only to be dashed because of Israel’s refusal to negotiate on the basis of the land-for-peace formula. Instead, Israel used the past two years to step up its colonisation of occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank, and strengthen its isolation and subjugation of Gaza. By carrying on with colonisation, in particular, Israel is trying to preempt the establishment of the Palestinian state Obama thought would emerge from the peace process. Without such a state there can be no peace in this region.
Mitchell’s resignation would be dangerous because the Palestinian Authority would, once again, face the failure of the peace process to deliver an end to Israeli occupation. Without this political horizon, the PA, an interim body established under the 1993 Oslo Accord, has no raison d’être.
Indeed, the PA was meant to be disbanded in 1999 when negotiations on the final status issues - borders, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, Palestinian refugees - and resources were supposed to conclude, as most Palestinians and some Israelis thought, with the establishment of a Palestinian state.
This did not happen because Israel did not honour its commitments under Oslo. Instead, Israel waged wars against the Palestinians and Lebanon and continued its colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, certain Israeli officials, officers and commentators have recently begun to realise that the way the situation is developing is unstable and cannot continue.
According to The Washington Post, senior Israeli figures have warned that without a deal with the Palestinians, the PA could disintegrate. If this happens, Israel would no longer be able to count on the cooperation of the Palestinian security forces and intelligence agencies once Palestinians return to their only option: armed resistance.
Security coordination between the Israeli military and Palestinian forces has given Israel a protracted period of calm in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinian bombers are no longer striking in West Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel “proper”. Cooperation has also enabled Israel to deploy fewer troops in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, taking pressure off conscripts and reserve soldiers.
According to the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are at their lowest since the first Intifada erupted in 1987 and the number of combat brigades deployed during the second Intifada has been cut by half. While improved intelligence gathering and performance have contributed to the cuts, coordination with Palestinian agencies has also made a major contribution to the “quiet” on the West Bank front.
Due to the deadlock in the peace process, a senior Israeli officer quoted by The Washington Post said: “I’m not sure that the Palestinian security forces will be able to keep this good coordination or whether they will want to” if talks fail. In preparation for the collapse of the peace process, the Israeli military has already begun to work out contingency plans for dealing with a third Palestinian Intifada.
The Israeli general staff was told many months ago by US General Keith Dayton, who was in charge of building up the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, that there was a window of about two years before Palestinian policemen became restive over the lack of progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. Dayton observed that the Palestinian security apparatus is not prepared to be coopted by Israel while it continues stealing and settling land Palestinians demand for their homeland. Furthermore, the well-trained and better armed Palestinian security bodies could very well conduct effective resistance operations against Israeli forces once it becomes clear that the Palestinians are in the process of being denied, once again, their right to self determination.