George Mitchell from N.Ireland to Mideast

Credited for a peace deal that ended decades of bloody violence in Northern Ireland, US President Barack Obama’s peace envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is on a new mission to restore peace to the region.

"I pledge my full effort in the search for peace and stability in the Middle East," Mitchell told a press conference on Thursday, January 22.

Mitchell, a retired US senator, was named by the Obama administration as the new US envoy to the Middle East.

A liberal Democrat, Mitchell was the Senate Majority leader from 1989 to 1995.

Born in 1933, Mitchell, a Maronite Christian, is the son of a Lebanese immigrant mother and a father of Irish descent.

Obtaining a law degree in 1961, he served as a trial attorney for the Antitrust Division, advancing to the post of assistant county attorney for Cumberland County, Maine, in 1971.

Mitchell became a Senator in 1980 when he was appointed to the Senate by Maine governor Joseph Brennan.

He quickly rose in the Senate Democratic leadership, serving as Deputy President pro tempore in 1987–1988 and Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995.

Confidence Builder

After leaving Senate, Mitchell was named by the administration of Bill Clinton as the US special envoy to Northern Ireland.

In 1998, Mitchell cemented his reputation as a skilled diplomat, brokering the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of bloody violence in Northern Ireland.

"He is very, very patient," Alistair Crooke, a former EU adviser on the Middle East, told Al-Jazeera television, referring to Mitchell.

He said Mitchell is a person who uses non-confrontational, non-aggressive language and he is a "great listener".

"He is extremely good at understanding that it is a choreography of building confidence that is actually the main part of building a peace process."

Mitchell is no strange to the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

He chaired a fact-finding committee in 2001 to look into events that led to the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in 2000.

Mitchell produced a report that called for Israel to freeze settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and stop shooting of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators.

The report also called on the Palestinian Authority to prevent attacks against Israel and punish perpetrators.

Mitchell’s report eventually became the basis of the so-called Middle East roadmap plan.

"I don’t underestimate the difficulty of this assignment. The situation in the Middle East is volatile, complex, and dangerous," said Mitchell.

"But the President and the Secretary of State have made it clear that danger and difficulty cannot cause the United States to turn away. To the contrary, they recognize and have said that peace and stability in the Middle East are in our national interest. They are, of course, also in the interest of Israelis and Palestinians, of others in the region, and people throughout the world."

Nervous Israel

Mitchell’s choice as the Obama administration’s Middle East peace envoy drew mixed reactions from Israel and Palestinians.

Former US ambassador Samuel Lewis, who recently visited the region, said there was "a lot of nervousness in Israel" about Mitchell.

He said Israel is worried about the Obama administration’s policy on Israeli settlement construction and what he said Israel’s security needs.

But pro-Israel groups in the US, including Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum, praised Mitchell’s selection.

"George Mitchell is not only intimately familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he also has a proven record of peacemaking success as President Clinton’s special envoy to Northern Ireland," said Debra DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now.

Palestinians initially welcomed Mitchell’s selection, but felt worried after Obama repeated the same Bush administration’s rhetoric that Hamas must first recognize Israel for any contacts with the Palestinian resistance group.

"Some were optimistic when Mitchell was nominated as a Middle East envoy," said Hamas representative in Lebanon Osama Hemdan.

"But it looks like even before Obama appointed him officially, he tried to put a spoke in the wheel, maybe so that he (Mitchell) doesn’t succeed."


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