George Mitchell, the envoy of President Barack Obama, specializes in one topic, namely resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He traversed the same air lanes before for the same purpose, so he will not need his ears as much as he needs his tongue and needs to find somebody to listen to him in the Arab region. I first made Mitchell’s acquaintance 10 years ago and have met him many times since. Even though he is a man of few comments, he is distinguished for specializing in managing disputes, coming as he did from a position filled with controversy and political differences as head of the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Did Obama choose Mitchell because he is from an Arab, Lebanese origin, in a bid to circumvent the psychological complex most Arabs have that makes them always suspicious of American intentions? This may be partially true. But his role is more important than this, for impressions usually do not last long and are good only as an initial introductory card to Arab councils. Obama chose him because he knows the details of the conflict, knows its sides, is aware of their psychology, and is also knowledgeable to a great extent about their calculations. What remains for him to do is to present a draft solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict that wins the approval of the principal parties. What are the likely solutions?
The first is the Arab Peace Project that has the advantage that more than 50 Arab and non-Arab countries have signed it and have committed themselves in advance to implement it if it becomes the chosen solution: The return of all the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian State in return for peace and recognition of Israel.
The second is the individual solution: A Syrian-Israeli peace built on the Rabin project and promise [of withdrawal from the Golan] and a Palestinian-Israeli peace built on the Barak-Arafat project. The two solutions end the conflict, restore the land, and establish the Palestinian State. But they are less ambitious and do not commit the Arab countries outside the circle to recognition or collective agreements towards Israel.
The third is an Israeli suggestion to return the West Bank to Jordan and Gaza to Egypt’s sovereignty, and to conclude a separate peace with Syria without the need for the establishment of a Palestinian State.
Each project has disputed details on the issues of the refugees, Jerusalem, water, sovereignty, security, military concessions, the external UN role and international guarantees. Consequently any one assigned to work as an envoy for President Obama, as is the case with Mitchell, will need lots of Aspirin and much patience. He will face almost the previous conditions, meaning the side conflicts that have in fact more impact and are more destructive in the domain of the aspired for solution. There are States that want to be part of the movement [towards a solution], and there are States that want to impose themselves as a side in the solution. There are States that have no relationship to the conflict itself, like Iran that will impose its agenda or sabotage the project. This is the painful realities in the region that have not changed much, even if regimes or slogans have changed. In the 1970s, Saddam Hussein led the campaign to isolate Egypt and founded an anti-Cairo axis in response to Camp David. The motive had no actual link to the Palestinian issue but to the game of axes at the time. Saddam fell and the Iranians inherited the same role and are using almost the same pretexts.
Mitchell’s mission will not be easy, even though the problem has become closer to a solution with the consent and conviction of the concerned parties, specifically Syria and the Palestinians.