Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Sen. George Mitchell Says U.S. Ideals More Influential Than Economic, Military Might

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Sen. George Mitchell Says U.S. Ideals More Influential Than Economic, Military Might

Article excerpt

Sister Elaine Kelley is administrative officer of Friends of Sabeel-North America.

The World Affairs Council of Oregon's International Speakers Series on Jan. 28 featured former Sen. George Mitchell. who discussed "Making Peace" on the same day as the Israeli elections and President George W. Bush's State of the Union address. Soon after the onset of the September 2000 Palestinian uprising Mitchell headed the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee on Palestinian/Israeli violence. The committee's final report in July 2001 was a disappointment to the anti-occupation movement for its assigning of equal responsibility to the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority (see July 2001 Washington Report, p. 24).

In a pre-event press conference the former Democratic senator from Maine indicated his hopes that the "[Bush] administration will undertake an intensification of efforts to move Israelis and Palestinians away from conflict." Just weeks ago, Mitchell pointed out, the administration had presented a roadmap to do just that, but did not press it pending Israeli elections.

"There's wide-spread perception that U.S. policy is biased in favor of Israel, that we're not doing anything," Senator Mitchell told a packed audience at Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, "but the two sides agreed an American leadership role is indispensable."

Although he referred to the Mitchell Report's recommendation that Israel "should freeze all settlement activity, including the `natural growth' of existing settlements," and the necessity of implementation of U.S. policy in the region, Mitchell stopped short of calling for Israeli compliance on the issue of settlements. When asked later why there were no consequences to Israel's continued settlement activity, and whether the U.S. should withdraw its funding until signs of compliance are forthcoming, Mitchell replied, "The U.S. and Israel are close allies. I hope the administration will follow up. The difficulty is there's total mistrust [between Israelis and Palestinians]. I think they could settle the settlements, and [without that] it makes it harder to get to talks, but not by cutting off aid."

Strong support for Israel has been the policy of every U.S. administration, Mitchell added. Referring to Washington's role on the U.N. Security Council, he said, "Sometimes we are the only vote on Israel's behalf."

On the subject of the international protection force requested by Palestinians at Sharm el-Sheikh but not recommended in his commission's report, Senator Mitchell said that it was a major issue of contention, opposed by Israel "because they had an organized military, and a protection force would deal with only one side. …

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