Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

January 25, 2010

Walt on ‘Why Mitchell should resign’

Filed under: Discourse in America,Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 10:29 pm

Stephen Walt had a thoughtful and hard-hitting post on his blog on January 22, in which he argued that Pres. Obama’s special peace envoy, George Mitchell, should resign from his post,

because it should be clear to him that he was hired under false pretenses. He undoubtedly believed Obama when the president said he was genuinely committed to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace in his first term. Obama probably promised to back him up, and his actions up to the Cairo speech made it look like he meant it. But his performance ever since has exposed him as another U.S. president who is unwilling to do what everyone knows it will take to achieve a just peace.

He adds that Mitchell has now been reduced to playing,

the same hapless role that Condoleezza Rice played in the latter stages of the Bush administration — engaged in endless “talks” and inconclusive haggling over trivialities– and he ought to be furious at having been hung out to dry in this fashion.

Of course, among presidentially appointed point-persons on Palestine-Israel who’ve been “hung out to dry” by their White House bosses in recent years, Gen. Anthony Zinni and Sec. of State Colin Powell also come immediately to mind.

Also, Mitchell’s own earlier foray into Palestinian-Israeli fact-finding, which he conducted in 2000-2001, didn’t exactly go down gangbusters with the incoming president (G.W. Bush) in 2001, did it?

In his blog post, Walt writes,

The point is not that Obama’s initial peace effort in the Middle East has failed; the real lesson is that he didn’t really try. The objective was admirably clear from the start — “two states for two peoples” — what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through. And notwithstanding the various difficulties on the Palestinian side, the main obstacle has been the Netanyahu government’s all-too obvious rejection of anything that might look like a viable Palestinian state, combined with its relentless effort to gobble up more land. Unless the U.S. president is willing and able to push Israel as hard as it is pushing the Palestinians (and probably harder), peace will simply not happen. Pressure on Israel is also the best way to defang Hamas…

It’s not as if Obama and Co. don’t realize that this is important. National Security Advisor James Jones has made it clear that he sees the Israel-Palestinian issue as absolutely central; it’s not our only problem in the Middle East, but it tends to affect most of the others and resolving it would be an enormous boon. And there’s every sign that the president is aware of the need to do more than just talk.

Yet U.S. diplomacy in this area remains all talk and no action. When a great power identifies a key interest and is strongly committed to achieving it, it uses all the tools at its disposal to try to bring that outcome about. Needless to say, the use of U.S. leverage has been conspicuously absent over the past year, which means that Mitchell has been operating with both hands tied firmly behind his back. Thus far, the only instrument of influence that Obama has used has been presidential rhetoric, and even that weapon has been used rather sparingly.

And please don’t blame this on Congress. Yes, Congress will pander to the lobby, oppose a tougher U.S. stance, and continue to supply Israel with generous economic and military handouts, but a determined president still has many ways of bringing pressure to bear on recalcitrant clients. The problem is that Obama refused to use any of them.

Strong stuff, indeed!

Walt’s piece then segues into an appraisal of the deeper trends in Palestinian-Israeli relations.  He writes,

Looking ahead, one can see two radically different possibilities. The first option is that Israel retains control of the West Bank and Gaza and continues to deny the Palestinians full political rights or economic opportunities. (Netanyahu likes to talk about a long-term “economic peace,” but his vision of Palestinian bantustans under complete Israeli control is both a denial of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations and a severe obstacle to their ability to fully develop their own society.)  … Perhaps the millions of remaining Palestinians will gradually leave — as hardline Israelis hope and as former House speaker Dick Armey once proposed. If so, then a country founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust — one of history’s greatest crimes-will have completed a dispossession begun in 1948 — a great crime of its own.

Alternatively, the Palestinians may remain where they are, and begin to demand equal rights in the state under whose authority they have been forced to dwell. If Israel denies them these rights, its claim to being the “only democracy in the Middle East” will be exposed as hollow. If it grants them, it will eventually cease to be a Jewish-majority state (though its culture would undoubtedly retain a heavily Jewish/Israeli character). As a long-time supporter of Israel’s existence, I would take no joy in that outcome. Moreover, transforming Israel into a post-Zionist and multinational society would be a wrenching and quite possibly violent experience for all concerned. For both reasons, I’ve continued to favor “two states for two peoples” instead.

But with the two-state solution looking less and less likely, these other possibilities begin to loom large. Through fear and fecklessness, the United States has been an active enabler of an emerging tragedy. Israelis have no one to blame but themselves for the occupation, but Americans… will be judged harshly for our own role in this endeavor.

This is thoughtfully written, but I think Walt errs in saying only that Americans “will be” judged harshly for our role in Israel’s colonial endeavor… We already are judged harshly on this account– by a strong majority of the people around the world.

I also think he over-states the “tragic” nature of a shift toward a true one-state outcome. As he writes it, the “tragedy” would lie both in the fact that the Jewish-majority state of which he has been a long-time supporter would no longer exist, and in the fact that “transforming Israel into a post-Zionist and multinational society would be a wrenching and quite possibly violent experience for all concerned.”

As opposed to the present situation of very longterm military occupation and mass dispossession?

It would surely have been appropriate for Walt to state at that point that the present situation, which is marked by Israel’s complete domination over the people and resources of the OPTs, the denial of Palestinian national political rights for more than 60 years, and the concomitant languishing of the majority of the Palestinian people in refugee status for over 60 years is itself one of deepseated and continuing tragedy.

Walt also seems to simply assume that as Palestinians become “forced to leave” their homeland, somehow they drop off the political map altogether. Far from it!

I hope I can discuss some of these issues more with Steve Walt– either when he comes back on our radio show sometime, or in person. But all in all, a really timely piece.



  1. Translate from: Hebrew to English by Google
    Obama’s tax settlements contribute to the flourishing
    By Akiva Elda

    So Obama should resign not his Meddle East Pease envoy to

    Only an idiot would say Israel has frozen settlement activity

    Whose failure is the Mideast peace process?

    By Akiva Eldar

    Comment by Salah — January 26, 2010 @ 5:52 am | Reply

  2. Helena, it seems Walt was surprised by this. Perhaps, even you were?

    Both of you do follow the area. Both of you know the history.

    How could you be surprised?

    Comment by Roger — January 26, 2010 @ 7:51 am | Reply

  3. helena, in light of the fact that isreal has every pres. administration in a state of neurosis, with no hope of ever having a pres. with a pair of cojions to make peace, to the detriment of us and all others with a stake in peace, including the isreali’s, i suggest that we could reduce our deficit and maybe even run a surplus if we all unite and beg isreal to annex us, so we can officially become the u.s.of isreal. the 3 to 4 billion in foreign aid saved would be chump change compared to the hundreds of bllions saved by the elimination of the duplicate two branches of gov’t., [the executive and the legislative], and all cabinet departments,etc. there won’t be any transition problems becauce we already have many boots on the ground. a few small examples: generals foxman,abrams,etc. colonels dershowitz krauthammer,lieberman, koch,etc. sgts. hatch,guiliani,king,etc. moran and j.wright need not aply.

    Comment by carl of queens,ny — January 26, 2010 @ 11:51 am | Reply

  4. the 3 to 4 billion</b.

    Carl, remebr your saving bigger if you taken in account the US aids to Egypt, Jordan, Marroco, and other Arab countries that US hands regimes billions a yarea to keep them happy with thier fest strong on thier citizins.

    Comment by Salah — January 26, 2010 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

    • salah………..first, i want to thank you for making me aware of the fact that i’m not the only guy in the world who can’t spell kat. my innocent wife helps me. i agree that they too should not receive aid. but a least they are home relief cases where as the isreali’s are well on their way to becoming the richest nation on earth. well deserved, do to their brilliance. soon they will be growing hair on a cueball. still, if i were an isreali. i would fell like a parasite. each and every american wii soon owe creditors 40,000.00 bucks, even a child just born. for many years i have written to senators, representatives,columnists,two letters to pres. obama,etc. begging them to give our starving to death neighbors the haitians , 500 million a year for infastructure, farming,manufacturing, tourism, tree planting,etc. i said it wouldn’t cost us [the u.s.a] a dime. all we would have to do is, instead of giving isreal 3 to 4 billion a year, a country that needs the money like it needs a hole in the head, give them 500 million less and give it to people who desperately need it, until they can stand on their own. because i am a vup and not a vip, my letters fell on deaf ears. i also went to bat for guatemalans, palestinians, bangladesh,etc. if a tragedy were to stike places like guatemala, everybody will discover a place called guatamala. meanwhile they are dying a slow death every day. even with the foeign aid savings of the arab countries you mentioned, it still won’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the savings of eliminating the middle man [the us of a gov’t]. we can get it wholesale.

      Comment by carl of queens,ny — January 27, 2010 @ 11:05 am | Reply

  5. the denial of Palestinian national political rights for more than 60 years..

    Surely they have never had national political rights. I think the lack of a political history is something that plagues many parts of the Middle East.

    Comment by Joe in Australia — January 27, 2010 @ 2:51 am | Reply

  6. George Mitchell is much to be respected and admired for his achievement in Northern Ireland. Therefore, it was very sad to witness his prevarications in his recent interview on the Middle East with Charlie Rose. Rose–not surprisingly–presented him with no questions close to the roasting point. He, too, is watching his watchers. It is most depressing to see both President Obama and George Mitchell back out of what must, indeed, be a very hot kitchen where most of the staff appear to be carrying Zionist plates.

    Comment by COILIN OWENS — January 27, 2010 @ 6:51 am | Reply

  7. I think the lack of a political history is something that plagues many parts of the Middle East.</i.

    The most idiot in the ME history who thinks as the above writer with his false statement .

    Go do your home work man and be careful with history you can whipped off history just as your shadow UN born state.

    Comment by Salah — January 27, 2010 @ 4:24 pm | Reply

  8. carl , Thank you hope your voice will be heard put keep it louder

    Comment by Salah — January 27, 2010 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  9. “Surely they have never had national political rights. I think the lack of a political history is something that plagues many parts of the Middle East.”
    I’m at a loss here, Joe: what does this mean?
    Is it another version of the ‘land without people’ nonsense?
    What plagues the Middle East is Imperialism and, in Palestine, colonialism. And both are sustained by enemies of the Palestinians (including many zionists) pretending a concern for a people they are happy to see dispossessed, and whose persecutors they unfailingly support. When, as is currently the case, the government of Israel consists of opportunists, religious fanatics, and the last sweepings of European fascism those excusing their actions are in parlous company.

    Comment by bevin — January 27, 2010 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  10. Obama on Iraq and Afghanistan in State of the Union Iraq troops coming home

    What a lie Mr President.

    Is their any brave audience that can stand and asked this man all 152,000 will be home?

    Are there brave people like these to stope this seminal lair?

    Comment by Salah — January 28, 2010 @ 1:54 am | Reply

  11. Is it another version of the ‘land without people’ nonsense?

    Of course not. I meant that the only indigenous bodies with control over the territory they represent have been local, not national, not even regional. This has encouraged corruption and rent-seeking rather than truly representative leadership.

    Comment by Joe in Australia — January 28, 2010 @ 4:16 am | Reply

  12. unless there is something going on behind the scene, i hope sen. mitchell would decide to spend ”more time with the children”. pres. obama, who is responsible for turning great expectations into great disappoitments, buried his head in the sand ,not even mentioning this festering cancer, the isreali occupation, during his s.o.the u. speech and deserves to be dissed my mitchell. am i the only person who picked this up?

    Comment by carl of queens,ny — January 28, 2010 @ 11:58 am | Reply

  13. Should the ME peace process have been mentioned in the SOTU speech? Has it been in speeches in previous years? I realize that to those who subscribe to the idea that Israel is the 51st state, as I think you carl probably think, that it should have been mentioned but this logic only follows from the false premise. Build a case, using evidence of what has been in past speeches, instead of “I think it, therefore it’s right”.

    Comment by David — January 29, 2010 @ 6:28 am | Reply

  14. The SOTU is used by Presidents to boast about the successes of their policies and programs and to give a broad outline of what they hope to accomplish in the future. As long as I can remember, and I’m not young, no President has talked about their failures. This is why President Bush in one of his SOTU speeches talked about flying to Mars, he had absolutely no successes to boast about.

    President Obama has had some domestic ecomonic succeses (averting an economic collaspe) and wanted to talk about what additional economic initiatives, such as a jobs creation bill that he hoped to pass. This was the focus of his speech.

    Presidents get to put in the speech what they want to put in the speech, not what carl of queens, ny thinks should be in the speech.

    Comment by David — January 29, 2010 @ 6:58 am | Reply

  15. as an american with 1st. amendment rights, carl of queens has every right to state his opinion on what he thinks should have been said. foreign policy effects the s.o.the u. every body and their father thinks the most important issue facing the middle east is the pal. isreal conflict. carl thinks it is the most lmportant issue facing his country. even more important then heathcare,jobs, etc. he thinks this way because, had this conflict been resolved fairly, years ago, 9/11 would have been just another day, no afghanistan, no iraq, etc. we had saddam in a rotisserie for approx. 12 yrs. [with embargos] his 1955 tanks couldn’t crack a bedroom window at close range. no way was he a threat to the u.s. as far weapons of mass destruction goes, chemicals,etc., there aint a country on earth including every pharmacy who don’t have the capacity for a chemical weapon. sure saddam was a psychotic killer, but it was up to one of the six and half million adult iraqi men to take care him ,not the usa. just iraq alone, when the dust settles 45-50 yrs. from now, it will cost the usa over 1 trillion bucks and all the unnecessary heartache suffered buy both nation. even if iraq turns out to a paradise for the 27 or so million of them it would come at the expense of over 300 million americans. because of 9/11, every place carl goes security guards shove a batan like instrument up his keista. he will never go to have lunch with his wife at the u.n., hosted by a foreign country even if they throw in ”vintage”louie roderer crystal”, because it took carl and wife 1 hour just to get to the elevator. all this guards costing billions and producing nothing. a half bottle of ”snapple”, outside the ”lincoln tunnel” tied up the entire n.y.city area for hours from downtown to the end of the bx. along with the shoe bomber, hasan etc. carl thinks these are all byproducts of our lack of being honest brokers. carl believes that the topic did come up in previos s.o.the.union speeches, but even if it hadn’t, it should have. as carl has often said, aipac and isreal have our leaders in a state of neurosis. all the money wasted on these wars and security, have prevented the the u.s. from putting the money to uses that save lives .carl

    Comment by carl of queens,ny — January 29, 2010 @ 11:45 am | Reply

  16. Wow, that is some rant carl. One line in particular caught my attention “9/11 would have been just another day.” So you don’t believe Osama’s stated reason that he wanted US troops out of Saudi Arabia? Or is it, you think that if Israel hadn’t been occupying the West Bank and Gaza that Saddam would not have invaded Kuwait back in 90 which caused our troops to be in Saudi Arabia?

    Comment by David — January 29, 2010 @ 12:45 pm | Reply

  17. saddams invasion of kuwait had nothing to do with the wb or gaza. it was just a bully tirant land grab with the bullshit excuse that the land belongs to iraq. just like what isreal is doing to the weaker pals. it was right to stop the bully in 90 but not in 03. how conveinient of you , david to remember the saudi statement but forget all his other statements made by bin l. just last week jan. 24th, mr. bin. l. said that the bombing attempt[Christmas day] was a heroic act meant to recall the sept.11th 2001, attacks in ny and wash. he warned that more strikes against the u.s. were looming because of american support for what he called isreal’s repression of the pals., one of. bin l’s. recurring themes in his occasional audiotaped anti west invectives. ” america will never dream of security unless we have it in reality in pal.” ” God willing, our raids on you will continue as long as your support to the isrealis will continue”. ” from osama to obama”. he also said, ”if our messages had been able to reach you through words, we wouldn’t have been delieving them through planes”. david axelrod [who i like] said, ”the message contains the same hollow justification for the mass slaughter of innocents”. where was david a. when the isreali’s performed their mass slaughter of innocent pals? [ dec. 2008 gaza] not a peep out of anyone in gov’t. many isreali solders fest up after the pemeditated murder spree, saying pal women and children were shot dead simply because they turned rigth instead of left.[ they zigged instead of zagged]. after a ”lenghtly” investigation, the isreali gov’t. dismissed the confessions as ”hear say”. ya rigth from the horses mouth! bulldozing hundreds of 1000 chickens. etc. i’m sure the peace seeking likud gov’t. was forced to murder the pal’s. chickens who were all caught red handed [i’m sure they have pictures to prove it] in the act of planting bombs to terrorize the isreali proper. when ever sharon would sucker the pals. into a suicide attack by murdering 3-4 pals. a day, all isreali’s and all of wash. d.c. would screem bloody murder, how evil those murdering terrorist killers of innocent women and children are.etc. sure they were right but when sharon went on with his perpetual murder spree, no said anything. yet when isreal dropped a bomb in an apt. house during the night,[always while everyone is sleeping] that killed the militant they were after along with apprx. 11 or 12 children including their ant. what did our gov’t. say? [pres.and sec.of state,etc] they said with they always say. ”it’s not helpfull” thats why we are in the pickle we’re in. weak leadership. an isreali spokesman had the audacity to say ,they shouldn’t have been in the same building with a known militant. the building they were born in. in the same inncident [it could have been another murder of innnocents to kill one guy], the spokesman justified it ”because they got their man”. to all isreali’s and allies, the jig is up. one of your own, judge goldstone’s report confirms that. read jan.28ths. ramallah rally comments. carl scala

    Comment by carl of queens,ny — January 31, 2010 @ 11:01 am | Reply

  18. saddams invasion of kuwait had nothing to do with the wb or gaza. it was just a bully tirant land grab with the bullshit excuse that the land belongs to iraq.

    The land didn’t belong to Iraq, but it doesn’t belong to the decadent and repressive Kuwaiti royal family either.

    Comment by Joe in Australia — January 31, 2010 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

  19. Is it really fair to blame Obama and Mitchell for the stalemate? The underlying problem is that all three parties (US/Isr/Pal) are driven by domestic politics rather than international statesmanship. Both principals are held hostage by the extremist elements in their constituencies that want to annihilate the other side. Much like the US on health insurance, there simply isn’t enough common ground for the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on that can achieve a peace. The Israeli government is simply incapable of acknowledging that they are the perpetrators of a pogrom in Palestine.

    Meanwhile, as long as Florida’s a swing state and the Jewish vote is a swing vote within that state, and the majority of Americans generally see Israel’s actions as more justified than the Palestinians’, American diplomacy will be tilted in Israel’s favor.

    Frankly, I think we would see more progress come out of the middle east if some other government (say Japan?) were to take over the US’s role as the intermediary in any negotiations.

    Comment by Bruce — January 31, 2010 @ 6:19 pm | Reply

  20. I don’t think I understand what an intermediary is supposed to do. I guess I understand what the USA can do – it can cut off foreign aid, or start aiding the other side, or whatever. But that’s not being an intermediary per se and it’s not something that Japan (or, really, anyone else) could do. So why would you want an intermediary instead of just telling the two sides to work it out?

    Comment by Joe in Australia — January 31, 2010 @ 11:48 pm | Reply

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