By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Former Senator George Mitchell has been assigned by President Obama to revive the so called peace process. Mitchell is no stranger to the region and he is not the first to be appointed for assessing the situation and make recommendations. In September 2000 and at the beginning of al-Aqsa intifada, Mitchell chaired an investigative commission that included former senator Warren Rudman, the former president of Turkey, Suleiman Demirel, the former foreign minister of Norway, Thorbjorn Jaland and Javier Solana, a Spanish diplomat. Eight months later, the Mitchell commission published a report that blamed Arafat for countenancing terror bombing and the Sharon government for its harsh military retaliation against the Palestinians and for supporting Jewish settlements.
Mitchell report included recommendations to be implemented by the Palestinians and the Israelis to create a “confidence-building” environment, but the Israeli Prime Minister Sharon supported by President George W. Bush ignored the report all together. Israel continued its settlement activities, forced curfews on the Palestinians, re-occupied Palestinian cities, invaded refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank, bulldozed Palestinians’ homes and destroyed their olive groves. Palestinian casualties in 2001 exceeded 1,300 dead and 9,700 wounded victims of the Israeli attacks. The Palestinians retaliated with suicide bombings in Israel. Suicide bombing is wrong and counter-productive but it is a symptom of hopelessness!
In the wake of June 2001 bombing in Tel-Aviv, President Bush dispatched CIA Director George Tenet to the area for consultation with Israel and some Arab states on how to deal with the Palestinian terrorism. Tenet recommended that both Israel and the Palestinians should exercise restraints but never addressed the causes of the violence. Then Bush appointed Major General Anthony Zinni as another special Middle East envoy to devise mutual security arrangements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Many things have changed since 2001 but two things have not. Israel has not relinquished the vision of colonizing the occupied lands; and the Palestinians, dispossessed and oppressed, are either living under occupation surrounded by Jewish-only settlements and roads, check-points and the Israeli wall of apartheid, or they are living in refugee camps across the Middle East.
Today, there is a new US administration; the Palestinians are divided into two camps at odds with each other on how to achieve the national goal; 1.5 million Palestinians are under unprecedented siege and sanctions in Gaza that is administered by Hamas which has been dismissed by Israel and the US as a terrorist organization; Fatah, the rival of Hamas, controls the PA and administers the Palestinians living in four cantons separated by Jewish only settlements and roads in the West Bank; and Israel is on the verge of electing another right-wing Likud led government that opposes the two-state solution. Mahmoud Abbas has been negotiating with Israel practically since he began negotiating the Oslo agreements in 1991 and has achieved nothing for the Palestinians.
President Obama might have changed the rhetoric of the past eight years but the ordinary Palestinians who live in the occupied lands and the three generations of the stateless refugees living in camps have heard too much US rhetoric and no action. They remember the promises made by George W. Bush to solve Palestinians-Israeli conflict and the repeated slogan of “two states living side-by-side” but he never made a push for a just deal. Bush called Annapolis meeting and set the goal of a peace deal by the end of 2008 and his Secretary of State visited the region more than dozen times but the target was not met because Bush supported Israel flouting the international laws with impunity. The Palestinians recall how President Clinton indicated his displeasure with the Israeli announcement that a new settlement was going to be constructed on Jabal Abu Ghneim then his ambassador to the UN vetoed a resolution condemning Israel for building the settlement.
Two weeks or one trip are too short periods to judge an era, but we can tell something about Obama’s policy even after only two weeks into his presidency. An Arab proverb states: “you may read the letter from its address”; and we can learn Obama’s policy in dealing with the Palestinian issue from George Mitchell first visit to the Middle East. Obama’s emissary took the familiar pro-Israeli bias position that was taken by the previous US administration and failed to make any progress toward peace. If anything, these positions became part of the problem rather than the solution.
Mitchell visited the region to listen and report to his superiors in Washington but he refused to include Gaza Strip on his itinerary. Gaza is the site of the recent massacres committed by Israel military that took the lives and maimed thousands; homes, schools, mosques and the infrastructure were reduced to rubble. He visited Ramallah but he did not take a ride from Ramallah to Nablus to see the Jews only settlements and roads in the West Bank. He could have inspected the hundreds of roadblocks and obstacles or the apartheid wall that the Palestinians have to navigate in their daily lives. He did not meet and listen to Hamas or Syrian leaders who have to be involved in the process if there is any chance of achieving peace.
Mitchell adopted Bush administration policy of classifying the Arabs, not the Israelis, into moderates and extremists and talking only to the so called moderates. His mission became a continuation of Condoleezza Rice policy and the Quartet representative Tony Blair mission that have legitimized the Israeli aggression and demonized the Palestinian’s right to resist occupation. President Obama told Al-Arabia TV among other things that “we (the US) don’t always know all the factors that are involved” but his emissary, George Mitchell, refused to speak to the leaders of a major Palestinian nationalist movement, Hamas, directly or indirectly because they do not recognize Israel. But Mitchell spent time with the unapologetic murderers, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert who have the blood of more than 400 Palestinian children and 300 women on their hands. He met Benjamin Netanyahu who does not even recognize the Palestinians’ human and civil rights all together. Netanyahu has announced on many occasions that “there will never be a Palestinian state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan”.
Mitchell could have saved himself the trouble of flying to the Middle if he was only planning to listen to the pro-US Arab and Israeli allies. He could have listened to them on the phone from the comfort of his office in Washington. Finally, Mitchell has rendered easing the siege on Gaza and the right of the Palestinians to receive food and medical supplies as a function of abandoning resistance to the Israeli occupation.
As long as the Palestinians pin their hopes on the US to help them achieve their national goals, they will continue to be a dominated people because the US does not seem to recognize occupation as the root cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that the occupation must end. Given Israel’s insolence and intransigence, the Palestinians’ weakness and the US blind support for Israel, more settlements will be built, Israel will wage more wars as “self-defense”, more Palestinians and Israelis will die and George Mitchell will not be the last envoy to visit the US-allies and make recommendations.
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.